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Whose saviour is Ranil? Sri Lanka’s or the President’s

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by Rajan Philips

The week that began with mayhem has ended in cynicism. Mayhem saw the ouster of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. Cynicism is the main ingredient in the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as his succesor and the interim government that he and his beleaguered President are now cooking. The week saw the highs and lows, the terrible and the terrific, of Sri Lankan politics. It began low with drunken thugs streaming out of Temple Trees, and it is ending low with Sri Lanka’s most recycled politician returning to Temple Trees for yet another stint as Prime Minister.

The highpoint of the week belongs to the people of Sri Lanka and those who are protesting on their behalf. The low point is the home of those who assembled at Temple Tress and unleashed their thugs on non-violent protesters on Galle Road and at Galle Face. Members of parliament of every hue, with a handful of exceptions, discredited themselves to different levels. The Police lapsed even lower than its already low standards, while the army seemed restrained in its words and in its actions.

The President finally spoke to the nation, but said little or nothing new. He did not address the main protest demand that he should resign, and he did not give any clue that he understands the challenges he is facing and has the skills to deal with them. “This week, I will appoint a Prime Minister who commands the majority in Parliament and can secure the confidence of the people and a Cabinet of Ministers,” GR said.

Then he appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe, who commands no confidence from anyone.

The Catholic Cardinal has already “refused to accept” Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. The influential Sanghanayake of the Amarapura Nikaya, Omalpe Sobitha Thero, has also expressed his opposition. It will not be long before a new Ranil-Go-Gama emerges in place of the now obsolete Mynah-Go-Gama that successfully targeted and got rid of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

External Endorsers

The President, whether sincerely or deceptively, did go shopping for a Prime Minister after his brother’s panicked resignation. Even Sarath Fonseka’s name came up for PM, but Mr. Fonseka rejected it. Sajith Premadasa was as usual caught in two minds – to accept, or not to accept. By the time he made up his mind and even wrote to the President, it was too late. The PM bus had already left. The comical pair of Sirisena and Weerawansa got their knickers in a twist over Ranil Wickremesinghe becoming Prime Minister and suggested three names (Dullas Alahapperuma, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Nimal Siripala de Silva) as alternative candidates to stop Ranil’s appointment. That went nowhere.

In all likelihood, Nimal Siripala de Silva may end up in Ranil’s (or will it still be Gota’s?) cabinet. Don’t underestimate Wijeyadasa Rajapkshe’s cabinet crashing abilities. If he is not inside, he will be pissing in from the outside – drafting a constitutional amendment to safeguard Sri Lanka’s sovereignty from the IMF! Sirisena will be left forlorn, except for the no less forlorn company of the Wimal-Gaman-Vasu troika.

The biggest reason Ranil Wickremesinghe won the selection for PM, in this highly competitive field of Sri Lanka’s best and brightest, is not domestic politics but external pressure. The IMF is said to have read the riot act through intermediaries to the President. The new Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe (quite a straight-talking fellow, unlike his bootlicking predecessors), made it clear that he would resign if there was no political stability in the country in the coming weeks. Sajith Premadasa missed even that signal. He may not have been pre-qualified enough to the IMF anyway. The US and India, Sri Lanka’s principal banker and protector at the moment, would have added their voices of support for Ranil Wickremesinghe and their veto against others. Their emissaries in Colombo have welcomed the appointment of Mr. Wickremesinghe. No other appointment would have elicited such external enthusiasm.

Internal Betrayal

Ranil’s Achilles heel is all local. He might have saved the President’s bacon externally, but on the domestic front they are each other’s albatross. It is nationally taken for granted that Ranil Wickremesinghe has stepped in or stepped up to save not Sri Lanka, but Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the ignominy of an abrupt exit or resignation. Objectively, that indeed is the case. From his safe house at the Trincomalee naval base, the ousted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has already tweeted congratulations and best wishes to his successor. That is code for saying – we are relying on you for protection.

It is remarkable that for everything that the country went through last week, neither President Rajapaksa nor Prime Minister Wickremesinghe thought it to be necessary to address the nation on the events of the week, the lessons they draw from the protests, and their commitment to satisfying the protest demands. In fact, Ranil Wickremesinghe accepting his appointment as PM by President Rajapaksa is a massive betrayal of the people’s demand for the President’s resignation. There has been no indication if the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe, is an interim arrangement, or if he and the President are planning to finish their permitted terms in office.

Neither of them has said how many months (it cannot be years) the President will remain in office, how long will Ranil be PM, and when will the parliamentary election be held? Nor have they said anything about the ‘reform agenda,’ many versions of which have been circulating as part of the search for a constructive political response to the protests and their demands. Every political party and persona, including the President, got latched on to the 13-point programme prepared by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. Now, no one is talking about it. The President and the Prime Minister have said nothing about it, and the President made no mention of it in his televised speech.

Ever since the Mirihana protests began and morphed onto Gota-Go protests, Ranil Wickremesinghe has been insisting that what Sri Lanka needs are not changes in government or No Confidence Motions, but an Economic Plan that must be formulated by parliament. Since when did parliamentarians anywhere get directly involved in economic planning? And how is it that after preaching that no government change is necessary, Mr. Wickremasinghe finds himself spearheading the most radical government change ever under the Executive Presidency?

The charge against Mr. Wickremesinghe is not that he has agreed to become Prime Minister under President Rajapaksa. The charge is that he has done it without insisting with Mr. Rajapaksa that he should be leaving office within a specific timeframe, and that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s only role as President now is to leave as President after an interim succession is put in place.

In his first reported statement after being appointed as Prime Minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe said, “I accepted the Prime Minister’s post to save the nation and to see that people of this country get three square meals while essential goods such as fuel, gas and electricity   are available. I cannot do it alone and therefore I  need international help. I also intend to obtain support of all MPs in Parliament to save the nation.” Or save the President?

With cynical equanimity, the Prime Minister went on to say that he would like to see the struggle at ‘Gotagogama’ continue. “We will not lay our hands on ‘Gotagogama’ in Galle Face,” he added. In other words, the new Prime Minister is allowing the protests to continue, including the demand for the President’s resignation, even as he is enabling the President to continue in office in spite of the calls for his resignation.

Back to Square One

Protesters at Galle Face Green, who have recuperated after Monday and seem even more energized and organized than before, had their answer ready for the new Prime Minister on Friday morning, about the same time he was making his newest revisit to his old office. Emergency regulations and curfew hours are not stopping the protesters. While the police have been literally hollering out to protesters the consequences of breaking curfew rules, the military chief has sent a contrary signal with his statement to the media that “as long as the protestors at ‘GotaGoGama’ are peaceful, there will be no problem”! And the Prime Minister has given his word that he will allow ‘Gotagogama’ to continue.

On the 36th day of their protest, the protesters have formulated a set of demands for the President and the Prime Minister. Their first and unequivocal demand of course is that “the Rajapaksa regime headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa must relinquish power immediately. Post resignation, the members of the regime should refrain from exerting any undue influence on the governance and rule of law in Sri Lanka.” This will invariably include the resignation of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. The second demand is that “an interim government must be established for a predetermined period (no greater than 18 months) to steer the nation onto the path of recovery.”

The Colombo chatter immediately following the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, was that he would be able to show majority support in parliament with the help of the bulk of SLPP MPs and sizable defections from the SJB camp. Easier gossiped than done. The SJB has since come out with the categorical statement that no SJB member will accept ministerial positions in the new Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa cabinet. The SJB is also challenging the new Prime Minister to show that a majority of 113 MPs are supporting him. Mr. Wickremesinghe has his work bitterly cut out for him at home despite all the support he generates overseas.

His cabinet formation will give some clue as to where MPs stand vis-à-vis the new regime. SLPP MPs, who are apparently fearing for their safety in returning to parliament, are the most likely to join the new cabinet. But if only SLPP MPs were to become cabinet ministers, then there will be nothing new about the new regime. SJB MPs, including Harin Fernando, will have a lot to answer to the protesters if they were to leave Sajith Premadasa for Ranil Wickremesinghe. Whatever their disenchantment with Mr. Premadasa might be, the acid test for SJB MPs in the eyes of the protesters is whether they going to join a government with Gotabaya Rajapaksa remaining President. It will be a sight to see Champika Ranawaka taking his oath as a new Minister before Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA and the JVP have both criticized the new Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa arrangement. In spite of their yahapalanaya association with Ranil Wickremesinghe, neither party is likely to support the new arrangement in parliament, let alone accept cabinet positions. All in all, it is safe to say that Ranil Wickremesinghe has walked into an unsustainable situation with Gotabaya Rajapaksa remaining as President. If he were to manipulate a show of majority support in parliament, that will only intensify the protests at Galle Face and around the country, curfew or no curfew. And if he were to be defeated in parliament, Gotabaya Rajapaksa will have no more excuse left except to exit.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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