By Dr Laksiri Fernando
One mistake we normally make in analysing the situation or crisis in Sri Lanka is to do it in isolation. Sri Lanka is unfortunately only a part of a world system. Although this situation is valid to almost all other countries, smaller or weaker a country, larger are the effects of external factors. Strategic importance also playing a part of the equation. Even before colonialism, there had been waves of civilisational expansions from major or larger countries into surrounding areas and countries. These happened in regional contexts until the advent of colonialism.
Colonialism and accompanied capitalism are the major trends that brought the world into an interrelated system where Western countries apparently dominate until today. Nevertheless, countries like China, Russia and many parts of the Middle East resist and confront Western influences although there is a clear symmetry between the West and them in terms market economies and capitalism. The role of India is much more nuanced.
Are there possibilities of socialism in Sri Lanka or any other country soon? It is quite unlikely although the country’s name remains as the ‘democratic socialist republic.’ What might be appropriate is to promote ‘socialist’ or ‘social democratic’ values within society and economy beginning with the educational system. Although this advocacy may appear theoretical, given the enormous problems that the poor and the disadvantaged people face today, there is space and need for such a promotion. This could be done both in the name of socialism and/or human rights in the socio-economic sphere. Nordic countries are the best examples that Sri Lanka or any other country could follow. Australia and New Zealand also give examples. However, to follow those footsteps the economy should be sustainably developed.
The world and humanity are at a particular juncture today. In the year 2022 that we are now completing or even before, the survival crises that the world and humanity are facing were obvious. Of course, the scientists, paid by businessmen and politicians, might be able to transport some people into the moon, if the world becomes a place of inhabitation. Some parts are already socially inhabitable. The over-exploitation of nature and the earth is the main reason for this situation. The climate change has gone in the direction of global warming. Not only the temperatures have changed, but also the weather patterns. The main reasons are the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) and cutting down of forests. At present, Americas are facing extreme cold or ice waves.
Even countries like Australia have seen uncontrollable forest fires and devastating floods. America is the same with many other countries. Among other factors, what has been neglected or unrecognised is the geographical change. The world today is experiencing probably the highest possible number of people living on the earth, exceeding eight billion. Of course their living conditions are uneven from rich countries to the poor ones. There is no question about building houses and other buildings for their necessities. However, the world is competitively building cities and metropolises covering the earth with concrete and cement without allowing the earth to absorb rainwater. Uncontrollable floods are the result.
Some Principles to Promote
Without gas for cooking, oil for transport and coal for electricity at reasonable prices, ordinary people in Sri Lanka cannot live a decent life. However, all these are the causes of global warming and climate change. Just war in Ukraine cannot be blamed for all these scarcities and price hikes. The ever dragging on war in Ukraine in itself shows the crisis the world community facing today. The UN has terribly failed on this matter of peace keeping and peace promotion.
The world is in a terrible crisis. Not only Sri Lanka. This should moderate our responses while steadfastly promoting our democratic values and principles. What could be our principles? Some of them in my opinion are follows.
1. Uniting all citizens in the country transcending ethnic, religious, gender, generational and other differences. Uniting with citizens of other countries again irrespective of above and other reginal or historical differences. India is our closest friend and country. Common humanity and universalism should be our principles while protecting cultural rights of all communities and regional diversity.
2. Poor and their grievances should be our policy priorities also focusing on the disadvantaged, marginalised, and the neglected sections. Not only the advocacy of women’s rights but also practical programmes to protect them should take primacy. Family violence against not only women but also children should be eliminated. Reforming of men’s values and practices should be one area through education and dialogue.
3. In the political sphere, defence of democracy and democratic values should take prominence. It means the practice of democracy not only in the political sphere but also in the family, educational system, industrial relations, and personal matters. Elections should be held regularly and timely. Man made economic crisis or difficulties should not be an excuse for the delay or not holding elections.
4. Economic crisis is the main reason for the current and recent political crisis. What has been proved is the inability of the Ministers responsible, and the Secretaries and other key bureaucrats (i.e. Governor of the Central Bank) responsible for the managing of the economy, balance of payments and income-expenditure or the Budget of the country. In the case of foreign debt, it is revealed that different past governments have not even been keeping the records properly. What has been the reason for this irresponsibility? Irresponsibility itself is one. The background of that undoubtedly comes from politics, political manipulations, duplicity, and double-dealings. These are not unknown to other countries. But Sri Lanka has come easily to the top of the list.
5. How come that Sri Lanka has degenerated to this much of low level? There has been a deep moral degeneration among the educated and also among the people. There have been discussions on who is primarily responsible for the country’s economic disaster. Of course, people are also greatly responsible for the country’s predicament. But the politicians should take the primary responsibility as they are elected to manage and develop the economy. There should be a strong movement against bribery, corruption, fraud, and economic mismanagement. That should embrace all levels of economic and political management.
Prospect for Future?
2023 appears quite bleak for the whole world. Irrespective of vaccinations or antiviral drugs, Covid 19 in many forms is spreading while giving death to the most vulnerable. China is again facing the most devastating effects while vacillating between zero Covid policy and now allowing freedom for the young to gather and go ahead with their routines. China is one of the countries which has neglected the natural geography in achieving modern development. New cities and concrete/cement structures are all over. All countries are experiencing extreme weather conditions. At present, America and Canada are engulfed in extreme winter storms unprecedented in their history.
War in Ukraine will not be subsided. Although the Western media believes that Russia is at the receiving end, the strategy of Putin appears to be different. While the new recruits and old armaments are overwhelmingly used, the strategy appears to be to modernise and strengthen the armed forces and armaments in the process. We are at the brink of a Third World War with the danger of nuclear confrontations.
Equally alarming is the developing violent internal conflicts spreading even in established democratic countries. America and Donald Trump have supplied an ‘exemplary’ example! No election appears to transfer power without controversy and violence. This is something Sri Lanka should avoid although it has a history of election violence. Apart from controversies over the transfer of power, in many Western countries racial violence and conflicts are emerging or remerging. France is the nearest example. After killing of three Kurdish people on racial grounds, streets in Paris are engulfed in protests, counter protests, and violence.
The reasons for these riots and violence are not only racial, but combined with economic and social grievances. The world economy is not going to be better in 2023 than in 2022. Unless there is a strong movement to address the economic issues and calm down the people and youth, there could be violence and chaos in many countries. Sri Lanka would be the same. All political parties in the government and in the opposition, trade unions, religious organisations, and NGOs, all should try to come to a common understanding while working jointly as much as possible in the coming future. Otherwise, the prospects for the new year 2023 would be extremely bleak.
The dire need to increase Sri Lanka’s export earnings and thereby reduce the trade deficit to meet the severe financial crisis we are facing today has been emphasised by many. According to Central Bank annual reports (see Table), export incomes have not increased substantially during the last few years. Tea, which contributes around 12 % of the total exports, registered a notable decline of 16.0 per cent in 2022, attributed to many factors.
In 2022, production of high, medium, and low grown tea, declined by 13.8 per cent, 21.2 per cent, and 15.4 percent respectively. Meanwhile, the average yield in the smallholder tea sector decreased to 1,193 kilogrammes per hectare, registering a year-on-year decline of 15.6 per cent in average yield. Production of rubber and most of the other export crops too have decreased during the last decade.
Increasing exports is of paramount importance to overcome the current financial crisis. But what we are going to export is the main question. Newspaper reports indicate that the quantity of most of our crop exports has dwindled during the last few years. As indicated above, production of tea, our main export crop product, has not shown any substantial increase during the last few years. All these data indicate that the production of our export crops is dwindling and it is sine qua nun that an effective plan is implemented to increase our export incomes. In such a plan, increasing the production of currently cultivated crops such as tea, rubber and coconut need to be adequately dealt with.
Sri Lanka has a wide variation in soil and climate with 46 agro-ecological zones, each characterised by specific climate and soils making it possible the cultivation of a number of different types of crops such as tuberous crops, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor etc. which have a considerable export potential. Out of the 6.5 million hectares of land, around 2.0 million hectares are in the wet zone. About 75% of it is cultivated and most of this land is of low-productivity due to soil degradation. In the dry zone, out of the 4.5 million hectares, only about 2 million acres are in productive use. Thus, there is a large extent of potentially cultivable land in the dry zone. Most of the soils in the dry zone are relatively more fertile than those in the wet zone. Non-availability of adequate rainfall during the Yala season is one of the limiting factors of crop production in the dry zone. However, better water management practices would reduce this limitation. Also, various major irrigation projects such as Mahaweli, Kirindi Oya, Muthukandiya and Inginimitiya provide irrigation to about 200,000 hectares in the dry zone. The numerous minor irrigation projects too would increase the irrigable area in the dry zone. Thus, there is a considerable potential to increase the level of crop production in Sri Lanka.
Although there are many organisations such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, Export Development Board, Industrial Development Board etc. there appears to be no proper medium long-term plan to promote the cultivation of these crops and develop appropriate agro-industries except for some ad-hoc projects. The Ministry of Industry and Agriculture should implement an effective agro-Industrial Development Programme which undoubtedly would increase our exports incomes, improve employment opportunities and incomes in the rural areas. Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.
In any programme/plan to increase foreign exchange earnings from the agric. sector, agro-industries have to be given much emphasis. A large number of crops cultivated in Sri Lanka have considerable potential in various agro-industries. However only rubber, coconut and a few fruit crops are used in industries. Crops such as cassava, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor, ayurvedic herbs, etc. have a considerable industrial potential but are not cultivated to any appreciable extent for want of better and improved varieties, technological know-how, relevant market information etc. Development of agro-industries will also increase export income and will have a tremendous impact on the economy of the country and also provide employment opportunities among rural people. Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.
There has been rhetoric on promoting exports. It is meaningful and effective actions that are necessary. Giving talks at numerous seminars etc. will not increase exports unless there is a realistic plan implemented effectively.
Dr. C. S. Weeraratna
It’s the economy, again
There is a report in the Lankadeepa of 30 September, 2023 that thousands (‘dahas ganang’) of university graduates in biotechnology (and engineering technology) languish without employment. There is a comment that even if all of them were employed as teachers in state schools (in fact, there is no money to do so), the pool of unemployed graduates in biotechnology, which is filled yearly,
would not dry up; not dissimilarly (the reporter comments) from the fate of graduates in Arts. That graduates in biotechnology are unemployable in this economy as graduates in Arts are, validates a position that I have repeatedly brought up in these pages: university graduates and other young people are unemployed in this economy because this economy is arid and sterile and not because the education system, at whatever level, is fundamentally flawed.
The moment they land in a vigorously growing economy, they become the output of an excellent education system. Not that the education system (school and university) cannot be improved: Cambridge University has improved since 1215; Harvard University continues to improve since 1635. China (Mainland and Taiwan), Malaysia and many other economies did not await reforms in their education systems to grow rapidly as during the last several decades. It is a bit like the truism about savings and investment in the total economy: you don’t have to save to invest; if you invest savings will accommodate investment. It might be apt to say, ‘it is the economy stupid’.
The report in the Lankadipa highlighted that it was Dr. Bandula Gunawardhena, who, when he was the Minister of Education in 2012, with great enthusiasm, installed these branches of learning in schools and universities. And, he earned a Ph.D. degree in Economics!
Our erudite president of the republic, who goes around the world from one conference to another, preaching to the rest of the world, shows great enthusiasm about digitizing this economy. He is falling into the same trap as Dr. Gunewardhena fell into. You digitize a growing economy, not a moribund and bankrupt one.
It is the economy, again.
Tribute to Dr. Nilanthi Cooray
I have known Dr. Nilanthi for more than 40 years since her marriage to my cousin Frank.Dr. Nilanthi was born in Moratuwa to a middle-class Catholic family. Her siblings include an older sister and a younger brother, and all three of them were studious. Her parents, especially her father. was a devout Catholic who was a frequent visitor to St. Sebastian’s church in Moratuwa.
Up to grade eight, Nilanthi attended Our Lady of Victories Convent in Moratuwa and then joined the Holy Family Convent in Bambalapitiya. She was accepted to the Medical College in 1972 after her successful results at the A-levels. She traveled daily from Moratuwa to the Medical college until such time she was able to get a place at the medical college hostel. During her final years at the medical college hostel, she succeeded in her studies and graduated as a doctor in 1976.
Her career began as an intern at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital Colombo for six months and another six months at the Castle Street Hospital, Borella working with leading qualified senior doctors. In 1977, she got married to her lifelong friend, Frank Cooray, who was working as a Technical Officer in the Irrigation Department. Her first appointment as a fully-fledged MBBS doctor was at the Narammala Base Hospital. Thereafter she got a transfer to the Lunawa Hospital.
After serving the required number of compulsory years (five or six years) she gave up the government job and started her own private practice. This decision seemed a calculated risk as at that time Moratuwa had enough and more reputed and recognized senior doctors such as Dr. Festus Fernando, Dr. Winston Perera, Dr. Cramer, Dr. Muthukumaru, Dr. Keerthisinghe, Dr. Guy de Silva and so on. However, within a short span of time, Nilanthi was able to establish herself as a remarkable young doctor and by the time the senior doctors retired or left Moratuwa, she had become one of the highly recognized doctors in Moratuwa with diagnostic excellence.
The demands of work and the up bringing of two little daughters made it difficult for Nilanthi to cope with everyday life. To support her, her husband gave up his job and went on voluntarily retirement after serving for 18 years at the Irrigation Department. He was just short of two years to qualify for the government pension.
In her prime of life Nilanthi was diagnosed for cancer. More time was spent in rest and prayers. Nilanthi and Frank would have prayed to God and all saints for a miracle healing. This was proved, when she went to Lourdes in France, a place known for Marian worship, to fulfill a vow, after receiving the good news from Dr. S. R. Jayatilleke, who was her oncologist, that her cancer has disappeared. This was the first thing she wanted to upon receiving the miracle healing. She got the green light from the doctor to fly. After her cancer Nilanthi slowed down in her practice and limited the number of patients per day.
Nilanthi was never interested in having a luxurious life or extra comforts like luxury cars or overseas holidays. Her life was centered around her family and her medical profession. She was a loving wife to her husband and devoted mother to her two daughters. As time passed, spending time with her four grandchildren brought her great happiness.
Only after her death that most of the people came to know about her charitable acts of kindness and in treating the poor without charging a fee. During her funeral service, a priest who gave the homily mentioned how students and staff of St. Sebastian’s College Moratuwa benefited by her treatment during their illnesses.
It was only a matter of telling her husband who was now attached to the staff at the College and he made arrangements for them to consult Dr. Nilanthi on a priority line. There was no difference between a priest, staff member, minor staff or a student (of course the student had to wear the uniform to identify their school), all were treated free of charge.
Attending the funeral service were several priests (including Bishop Anthony who was a past Rector of the College) and Christian brothers who served the college. I am certain that they came not only to pay their last respects but also to express their gratitude for taking care of them during their time of illnesses.
In the latter part of her life, her health deteriorated and with the help of her domestic aid, she had chosen a saree and a blouse for her final journey, which she did not disclose to her family members. However, when Frank came to know about it, he was upset and he had asked Nilanthi what this is all about. But she had not given any answer to that.
However, taking that opportunity she had given one more instruction to Frank, and that is after she is gone to give the gold chain round her neck to the domestic aid. For her final journey she was dressed with that particular saree and when everything was over the gold chain was given to the domestic aid.
She leaves so many special memories and a legacy of love. May her soul rest in peace.
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