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Opinion

Why code of conduct for systems change?

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By Sonali Wijeratne

A former Ministry Secretary (Mrs Dhara Wijayathilake) writes in The Island Opinion of 27th April 2022 of an imperative need for a Code of Conduct for Ministers. She is of the view that such a voluntary code that is merely an oath to be taken by the Ministers, is yet a ‘vital aspect’ to the system change for which thousands of youth, ordinary citizens, civil society are clamouring day and night at ‘Gotago Gama’, ‘Mynago Gama’ and other venues across The Island. Small wonder then that the “Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament effective from April 2018 which would also apply to Ministers” referred to by her, has hitherto had little or no effect so far in preventing this country from the sorry state to which is driven today!

There is something surreal in this carefully contrived 18-point Code of Conduct in context of the present state of the country. In the current scenario, the System has undoubtedly failed the Nation NOT for want of regulations, laws, or Code of Ethics, Codes of Conduct, but the lack of proper implementation and management of the economy, poor governance, problems in policy and politics, populist measures that have been designed to please the electorate at cost to the nation’s coffers, the indiscriminate use of external debt instruments, lack of fiscal discipline and budget deficits over several decades etc.

A strident cry that reverberates across all demonstrations, public protests clamouring for a New Order or Systems Change is that of citizen’s outrage against nepotism, cronyism and corruption of ministers, especially the President, Prime Minister and other Ministers in the Rajapaksa family. Does the writer imagine that a Code of Conduct on oath to be taken by the Ministers could be the magic wand that would assuage this public outcry, let alone result in a new purer cleansed and reformed polity? Are we to dilute the courage, persistence, and continued zeal and idealism of several thousand protestors who brave scorching heat and wet weather with a simplistic new Code of Conduct for Ministers as a dynamic part of the system change?

Besides Point 10 of this Code of Conduct talks of ‘Ministers not engaging in conduct that is in violation of the responsibility of the Chief Accounting Officer who is the Secretary of a Ministry’. Surely, this shoe is on the other foot? It is the Chief Accounting Officer, the Secretary, who is responsible for adhering to the Financial Regulations (FR) and Administrative Regulations (AR) It is the function of the Secretary therefore to advise the Minister on all matters relating to FR and AR and implement the same whatever code of conduct the Minister deems to follow. Whatever verbal or written orders come from the Minister in charge of a Ministry, the Chief Accounting Officer is one who signs on the dotted line on all “tender” and other decision making subject to Cabinet Approval! Therefore while Public Officers may often seem to “struggle to uphold their commitments to render a service with integrity” as this former Secretary declares, they cannot pass over their Accountability and Qualified Immunity of decision making due to the excuse ” that there are sacred principles of good governance that Ministers love to forget or choose to ignore”. Nor can we be so callow or obtuse to assume that the mere oath taking of a Code of Conduct would succeed in changing the scenario to Good Governance and Principled Conduct of Ministers!

Why pass the buck on this most serious matter of accountability? Isn’t it a fact that the Constitutional Changes of the early 1970s resulted in the appointment of Chief Accounting Officers/Secretaries of Ministries based on political and not meritocracy, or seniority of Sri Lanka Administrative Service officials? The demise of the objective, independent, Permanent Secretaries system meant that the Secretaries appointed to Ministries were little more than obedient puppets who for the most part had to obey their masters to survive in their privileged posts! The Pool in the Ministry of Public Administration awaited those who chose to tread the straight and narrow path of Rule and Regulation in opposition to their Ministers in the Ministry. It is extremely rare to find a Secretary of a Ministry who turns whistle blower or who resigns on principle since the method of appointment of these so called Chief Accounting Officers lies in the palm of the Politician/Minister. However, there are many Secretaries who found themselves transferred to another Ministry or Post due to their diligence and honest work.

Therefore, an honest, valid Systems Change must be when the method of appointment of these Chief Accounting Officers is not based on Political Bias/Preference, but on career seniority and merit. It is when we revert to a Permanent Secretary system, where whatever FR and AR followed by the Secretary in a purposive manner for the good of the country remains without interference or political pressure and punitive action.

Let us be clear. A Minister who is appointed to a subject Ministry is often advised, directed tactically and served in the best interest of the country by his Secretary and other officers. Therefore, it behoves on the part of the world of officialdom too to work with a straight back and not bow, cringe in servile sycophancy merely to reap privileges for themselves. The onus on these Secretaries/Chief Accounting Officers is critical. It is under their signature and authority that administrative and policy decisions are translated into action. It is high time that the much talked of “systems change” incorporated the bureaucracy, their accountability in particular, and ensured a more independent infrastructure for them to operate.

The Nation is tired and sick to the death with Declarations of ‘Dharmishta Society’, ‘Yahapalanaya’, Codes of Conduct Vistas of Splendour and Prosperity. None of these highfalutin boasts have yielded the legitimate expectations of the People. Pragmatic Policy and Structural Reform, Mandatory criteria, requirements and legal pre-requisites for holding public office, good governance and transparency must be the order of the day if we are to eschew hypocritical tongue in cheek solutions.

It is enough to consider in retrospect whether a Code of Conduct for Ministers let alone the then Governor of the Central Bank could have prevented the most injurious, erratic monetary policy practiced, of late, plunging the economy to inflationary spiral and all time low in foreign exchange reserves. It seems policy bungling, mismanagement of the worst order, bond scams, unilateral policy statements, e.g. that Sri Lanka does not have a foreign exchange crisis, we have plenty of dollars, IMF involvement is not necessary, etc., that we heard from the former Governor, is above such Codes of Conduct!



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Opinion

Our long-forgotten friend can help mitigate impact of fuel shortage

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The importance of the bicycle as a mode of transportation is seemingly re-emerging in Sri Lanka. This sudden drive is mainly attributable to the ongoing economic crisis the country is faced with. The forex crisis, together with ever increasing fuel prices, has made the Sri Lankans remember their long-forgotten friend––the bicycle.

We see more and more people taking to cycling today for their daily activities out of desperation more than anything else. However, this trend needs to be encouraged not only for its economic benefits but also for its health, environmental, social (and many other) advantages.

The benefits of promoting cycling

Economic

– The economics of transportation has become a major woe. The main energy source used today in transportation in Sri Lanka is fossil fuel. This amounts to 2,081 Mn USD (or 64 % of the total fuel cost of the country) a year. In terms of percentage spending of the total foreign imports, this amounts to a whopping 10.3 %. (Source: Kumarage AS, Repositioning Sri Lanka’s Transport and Logistics Sector to lead the Economic Recovery in Sri Lanka, Organization of Professionals’ Association Journal, April 2022). By promoting the use of bicycles, we can expect to reduce a sizable amount of this colossal expenditure.

Cycling is also known to be conducive to the small-scale trader, as he comes in contact with the cyclists more often than the motorists. Thus, cycling will positively influence the small-scale economy of the country as well.

Health

– A number of studies have shown that cycling reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as Acute Myocardial Infarction, Coronary Heart Disease, Cerebro Vascular Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, stress and many psychological diseases. Cycling, while improving the overall health of the people, will also reduce the healthcare costs, appreciably in the long term.

Environmental

– Increased use of fossil fuels for transportation has in turn become one of the leading causes of environmental pollution, global warming and climate change, the world over, three of the major calamities the world has come to be plagued with today. By cycling we can reduce air pollution by reducing the noxious gases, such as carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, benzene and particulate matter. It also reduces noise pollution, and helps in mitigating global warming and climate change.

Social

– Cycling is also known to promote social interactions among people by encouraging networking and collaborations between them. This will influence the social health of the community positively.

The activities proposed

– The programme to promote cycling should be implemented, as a pilot project, with the participation of the state sector employees in some selected districts. Depending on the success thereof, it could be extended to the other sectors and districts.

1. As the first step towards promoting cycling nationwide, we propose that it be promoted among the state employees as their main mode of travel (to work). In this regard, we propose that they be paid an incentive in keeping with the distance they cover.

2. Bicycles could also be used by those who live far away from their workplace; they can cycle to the main bus or railway station. In both these situations, the cyclists should be paid accordingly.

3. Cyclists should be provided with facilities for bathing and changing at workplaces.

4. The government should take all measures aimed at making travel, safe and hassle free for cyclists. New laws should be made for this purpose, if necessary.

5. To lessen traffic congestion and increase safety of the cyclists, one-way traffic for the motorists in parallel roads should be encouraged wherever possible.

6. Cyclists should be provided with facilities to purchase bicycles, spare parts and accessories at discount rates.

7. Encourage production of bicycles, spare parts and accessories in Sri Lanka. Promote bicycle repair services countrywide.

8. Plant and maintain trees on the roadside for the benefit of cyclists. This will also help reduce air pollution and ambient temperature.

9. Liaise with major cycling associations in the world like the World Cycling Association, the Dutch Cycling Embassy, etc, in order to update knowledge and skills relating to promoting cycling in the country.

10. In keeping with the principle of “polluter pays” a dedicated tax could be imposed on motor vehicles, and the revenue therefrom used to promote cycling.

Dr. PRASANNA COORAY

President

Consumers & Customers Union

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Opinion

Catastrophe that has hit Ukraine

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The coup, or revolution, in Ukraine in 2014, as a result of the Maidan Square uprising, enabled extremist forces to take control of Ukraine. Many of them have Fascist ideology even to this day. In 1945, Russia had chased the German Nazis back to Berlin at a terrible cost in Russian lives. Now, people with this same mentality have taken power in Kiev with the devilish help of the American CIA – and they are hostile to Russians in Russia and even Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who number about a third of the total population of 60 million Ukrainians.

This minority of Russian-speaking people are mostly located towards the East of the country, with many centred in the towns and cities known as the Donbas. These people did not want to be subjected to Nazi, Fascist unpleasant treatment, so they agitated to be independent. They formed their own militias, men from the army defected and brought weapons from the army! The army and the militias fought each other to a standstill. In response, the Ukrainian army-built lines of trenches and other defences along the Donbas, especially near towns with important or vital industries.

Over time, relations deteriorated and the army started indiscriminately shelling the Donbas – they were killing their own people! This tragedy occurred for a period of eight years. About 14,000 civilians were killed by illegal random fire. No reporting on this in the “morally correct” west, and this story was ignored. Fascist thugs made Mariupol steelworks their headquarters in the Donbas. Early this year, 2022, the Ukrainian army was seen massing nearby for a full-scale attack on the rebels of the Donbas. Around 200, 000 of the best fighting men of all the Ukrainian army were to be used to finally crush the Russian-speaking rebels of the Donbas.

At the same time, the US was gearing up to take some land in the Donbas area – possibly in Crimea. The US considered Ukraine as their backyard, and they wanted to control the Black Sea and pin down Russian access to the sea – more devilish ideas to undermine and weaken Russia!

Russian ‘Special Military Operation

’:

But Russia was watching, and on 24 February, it launched its ‘Special Military Operation’ to counter the hostile actions in the Donbas. The first thing they did was to destroy all the ground radars, rendering the Ukrainian air force incapable of targeting accurately. Then came a great parade of propaganda and lies about Russian failures and losses, all fictions and distortions which were untrue, but were misleading to those without access to the facts. President Putin had so many ailments he alone could fill a hospital! All fiction. The west’s propaganda war is a remarkable feature of this military excursion.

At the outset of the Special Military Operation there were many similarities between the Russian and Ukrainian forces, and their equipment. But there were some glaring differences, too.

Russian forces were full time, professional soldiers, well trained in the specific tasks they were responsible for: they were a fully professional, competent army operating advanced equipment. They had high-tech equipment and knew how to handle it and use it to its fullest, to its best.

Each aircraft, battle tank, drone or radar station carries electronic equipment. This creates a node forming part of a computer network which exchanges information. The information fed into this network is processed by powerful computers. The result is that the targeting of enemy positions is exact, resulting in highly efficient warfare. It is efficient, not least because the Russian army wants to avoid targeting civilians. In the Donbas, all the people were related kinsfolk, being Russian speakers.

This required much caution in targeting, as the Ukrainian army was hiding among the civilians. The Russian army was obliged to advance slowly, so as to do as little damage as possible. This targeting efficiency also had the benefit of using ammunition economically. It was a progressive, brutal de-militarization of the Ukrainian army in Donbas using the combined military forces of Russia.

No-body knows when peace will arrive in Ukraine. It seems likely that, after going to all this effort, Russia will continue on and conquer the port of Odessa, and may even continue onwards to link up with Transnistria.

Note that this death and destruction could all have been avoided if Ukraine had implemented the Minsk Accords. They acted in bad faith and now suffer the consequences of that dishonesty.

Wild speculations are made in the West about the dangers of nuclear war. But these generals, colonels and western elites should know, as a matter of personal professional pride, that the official “Russian Military Doctrine” spells out in sections 26 and 27 the criteria for the use of nuclear weapons. This will happen only when outside actions pose an existential (real) threat to Russia. Russia will react with Nukes either: if Russia is hit by a nuclear explosion or if an army invades and approaches the centre, say, Moscow.

A Professional Army using High–tech Equipment:

For this success, Russian soldiers had to be well educated in maths and physics, and because of the extreme complexity of modern war, they must have a serious attitude. They had to know all about military science: operational art and planning, informational nodes, and net centric warfare. The Russian army engages in reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and targeting. Radar can give targeting information in 23 seconds, requiring defence alertness and readiness.

It is unlikely the Ukrainian army is so well educated and trained. Firing indiscriminately on the Donbas and killing people and the use of prohibited cassette munitions as seen on world news sites, does indicate a lack of discipline. This unprofessionalism has cost them dearly.

The Ukrainian army gives losses at approximately: 20,000 killed, 64,000 missing in action, and perhaps 30,000 men wounded. Russians give about: 5,000 men in special Russian holding camps and 2,500 men in Donbas holding camps.

Legal experts in Russia, and Donbas experts, are, even now sifting through all the cases of the detained men. Normal soldiers will be given trials and sentencing for any wrongdoing, but those with a background of supporting Fascism will be shipped to Siberia for further investigation. One of the stated aims of the Russian establishment is to de-Nazify the Ukrainian army.

The Role of Education in Development of a Country

: Throughout their lives Russian children get much more science, physics and mathematics (STEM) than schools in the west. The standard set by the best Russian college entrance examinations is high, putting the American schools and colleges in the shade. There are no multiple-choice questions, answers are either right or wrong. These best Russian schools are attended by many bright, thirsty minds, each waiting to drink up the education offered.

This careful selection and development of bright scientific minds has enabled Russia to develop really advanced weapons and rockets, way ahead of the USA. For example, it launched the orbiting Sputnik into space well before the Americans. This act alone sent the US administration into a panic. They, in response, developed the high altitude U2 spy plane to go and see what the Russians were up to! Recently, because the US Shuttle was out of service, Russia was providing the Americans with a shuttle service to the international space station. A group of young engineers, all under 30 years, designed the SU 57, a highly successful fighter. Russia has designed and successfully tested hypersonic weapons – which the USA is struggling to catch up with.

In truth, the main war between East and West is being played out at the school desk, and Russia is winning!

See Larry Johnson’s film on YouTube – in English

PRIYANTHA HETTIGE

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Opinion

Save us from our govt.!

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When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.

One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.

Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!

Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.

The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.

BUDDHI PERERA

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