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Thursday 14 June 2001




Welcome steps on wildlife 
Firm, decisive measures to bring our wildlife management and conservation efforts out of the doldrums by no less a person than President Kumaratunga herself are likely to win the approval of both wildlife enthusiasts and the general public.

Part of the reforms set in motion by the President in this vital sphere of public concern is the radical reorganization of key State institutions charged with wildlife preservation and conservation. For instance, the Wild Life Department and the Zoological Gardens have been brought under the direct supervision of the President.

It is also encouraging to learn that wildlife expert of international fame, Lyn de Alwis, who is also a former Director of Wild Life, has been given the key appointment of Advisor to the President on Wildlife Activities and Zoological Gardens. The President has also appointed him head of a committee dealing with problems relating to our elephant population. The other member of the committee is Jayantha Jayawardena. 

The public are bound to be glad for these moves to give substantial political clout to our wildlife and nature conservation and protection efforts. These measures are both timely and insightful because nature and environment protection could no longer be pursued in isolation from the wider development effort. It is quite some time since development came to be viewed holistically with environment and nature protection constituting an important aspect of development. For, development is no longer a mere rise in the GNP per capita but sustainable and equitable economic activity with safeguards against environmental damage figuring prominently in the development effort.

For far too long wildlife and environment conservation efforts have been impeded by powerful and rapacious interests, which have prevailed against the authority of State institutions such as the Wild Life Department and the police. Poaching and timber felling are only two areas where these abuses are obvious. If these exploitative interests are to be defeated, wildlife conservation authorities should be sufficiently empowered to discharge their duties efficiently and effectively. This is the reason why the move to bring the Wild Life Department under the supervision of the President should be considered sensible.

A close look at the Colombo Zoological Garden would convince one of the need to launch drastic measures to ensure the sustained upkeep and maintenance of these sanctuaries. Decay and neglect are all too evident at the Dehiwala Zoo where some animals are being allowed to languish under atrocious conditions.

The much spoken and commented on human - elephant conflict too is taking a heavy toll on our conservation effort. It is obvious that unplanned development efforts and projects are driving our elephant populations out of their habitats. Besides forest denudation is continuing relentlessly.

The time is ripe for decisive State action to end these abuses, which have thrived in an atmosphere of benign neglect. We are glad that these prolonged crises are now being squarely addressed.





The Masses are Asses?
Recently, The Island columnist C.A. Chandraprema wrote about ‘Masses being Asses’—a widely accepted political truism in this country but rarely expressed in public, particularly by politicians. The masses have to be told what to do and when elitism prevailed the country did much better, he contended. Prof. Carlo Fonseka, the left leaning don rose in defence of the masses and argued that the elite was no better than Mr. Chandraprema’s asses.

While we go along with the Fonseka school of thought that rule by the masses, however asinine it has been, has been of much greater benefit to humanity than elitist upstarts, recent pronouncements and events in the Sri Lankan political firmament have made us veer towards the Chandraprema school of thought.

Take the unbelievable political comedy that was enacted on TV this week. On Monday we had three youthful UNP Colombo Municipal Councillors appearing on state controlled Rupavahini and making stirring speeches on why they were crossing over to the PA. They were disillusioned with their own UNP and inspired by the dynamism of Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, the three young men proclaimed. But on Wednesday night this same trio appeared on TNL and were saying that it was all a mistake that they had crossed over to the PA. They had been ‘emotionally’ charged when they decided to leave the UNP, which they now regretted, the three City Fathers said on TV. One City father gave reasons: His father-in-law who was warded in hospital had been very much upset by his decision and his wife had been haranguing him all the time for crossing over! So the young City Fathers who crossed over with garlands and much song and dance—orchestrated by a well-known double-crosser Mr. Mervyn De Silva (SLFP to UNP and back to PA)—was back in the arms of UNP leader Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe.

This political buffoonery is indeed entertaining but what does it make of Sri Lankan politics? More important: Do these politicians take the electorate to be asses? The three concerned are supposed to be City Fathers of the Colombo Municipal Council, which is said to be in the best-educated and best-informed electoral districts not local yokels from the remote backwoods. Do they expect the people to believe them? Most probably they will seek re-election when the time comes and be returned to the Town Hall or even elected to parliament!

The masses being asses was best illustrated in a speech made by no less a person than the Hon. Prime Minister, Mr. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake in February this year. Addressing senior public servants on the role of Public servants and the Challenges of Development he said: ‘Election Manifestos are documents that declare professed policies of political parties. These are vote-catching gimmicks. All political parties lie in their manifestos and the party that utters better lies and more effective lies is the side that wins the elections.’ Needless, to say, Mr. Wickremanayake’s party won the elections.

What have the vociferous supporters of the Peoples Alliance as well as the silent dignified supporters have to say to these revelations of the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister, at least has been candid enough to openly state the truth whereas other politicians dupe themselves into believing that the people take what they say as the absolute truth and their political manifestos as holy texts. The masses however keep voting in their old political parties knowing well they are returning rogues back again to the august assembly, because of party loyalty and the hate of their political rivals

In the context of this brazen political chicanery, what is to be made out pronouncements of national importance being made by top ranking politicians? Readers will recall that The Island since the North-East conflict commenced in 1983, has been advocating bi-partisan consensus between the UNP and the SLFP (later the PA) on national issues. A common position had to be adopted on the resolution of this issue, we have stressed. At times we have called for a national government, in national interests.

It will be recalled that President Kumaratunga, having escaped the attempt by terrorists to assassinate her and on winning the general election stressed on the need for national unity and called on the UNP to join hands with her to work in the interests of the nation. The Island going on this appeal made a strong plea for the formation of a national government. But a few days later President Kumaratunga said: ‘Divainata jaatika anduwe gane Vallipuawa gahala’ (Divaina-implying The Island—has developed epilepsy over the formation of a national government).

Now, we have reports of Mr. S.B. Dissanayake making strong pleas for the formation of a national government. The cause for this sudden burst of inspiration we are not aware of. Some say that it is the realisation of the need for unity to resolve the on going North-East conflict while others say its the no confidence motions that are being moved against the government.

But what can the people and the media make out of this proposal of Mr Dissanayake? If we do support the proposal, we may be suspected of developing ‘epileptic fits’. Prior to any move the government must show consistent rationality in their pronouncements and build up its credibility.





Way out of the political quagmire
Politics in this country is becoming strange and curioser by the hour. Today’s UNPer changes over to the PA making numerous allegations against his old party and praising the new party. Within 24 hours he returns to the fold and retracts the statement made overnight. The mastermind behind the episode then condemns the man whom he hailed the previous day.

Further moves are being made by either side of the political divided to strengthen their ranks by fishing in members to their respective camps. Each side claims that several members are waiting in the wings to cross the street. However, they refrain from naming names. What these frequent crossovers of politicians clearly show its the mockery to which the political party system in this country has been reduced.

Most of these crossovers throughout, one could safely say, have been motivated by reasons other than the national interest. Very often it is the loss of one’s position in the party that makes one to change over to another. Although there have been instances in the past when politicians have crossed over as a result of their disagreement with their parties on controversial national issues, such occasions have been few and far between. Another factor facilitating crossovers have been the absence of major differences in policies pursued by different political parties, particularly by traditional rightist parties. Therefore, what is needed is a minor modification of their outpourings on public occasions. A UNPer crossing over to PA will not find it difficult to feel quite at home in the new camp, as demonstrated by those who recently crossed the floor in parliament.

While these attempts are set afloat to increase the numbers by both sides, intensified moves are also being made now to from a national government. There is, in fact, no serious obstacle other than the personal differences and animosities that prevalent these parties from getting together in a combined administration, to help the nation to get over its present predicament. As senior UNP MP Tyronne Fernando correctly puts it, “When the place is on fire, you don’t play political games. First, you should get together and put out the fire.” We may add that when a house is on fire, nobody is concerned about the colour of the persons bringing water to douse the fire.

Although the need for such collective action is appropriate, logical and urgent, the chances of such a salutary event materialising appear to be remote in the present context of heightened party conflict, caused particularly by the ongoing opposition effort to impeach the Chief Justice and to topple the PA government through a no-confidence motion. But the present moves to form a national government should be supported and encouraged by all those who have the nation’s interest at heart.

The present proposal, coming as it does, publicly from the General Secretary of the main PA partner, SLFP, S. B. Dissanayake, the suggestion has to be taken up with greater seriousness. It is indeed a fact that almost all the past leaders of this country have from time advocated a common approach to the country’s problems although their party affiliations have throughout thwarted such efforts.

However, Minister Dissanayake’s present proposal, which accompanies a condemnation of the alleged attempts made by smaller parties to hold the government to ransom, is likely to raise fears and doubts among minority parties. If the proposal is to be proceeded with seriously, these fears have to be assuaged. A government cannot be truly national, is the power is to shared between the two main parties. Every attempt should be made to ensure that all shades of opinion and interests are represented in such an administration.

Whether these attempts will succeed or not, we can be certain of one thing. Judging from the past behaviour of our political parties, the expected and even assured, Opposition cooperation for solving the ethnic problem is unlikely to be a reality, unless the existing opposition is also made a responsible partner in the administration through an national government. Otherwise the opposition will cooperate for some time only to withdraw from the process of reaching consensus when it appears to them that their future electoral success will be at stake.





National govt., the need of the hour
Lord Buddha had advised Lichchavi Kings of yore to meet in peace, talk in peace and end the discussions in peace.  That advice is of universal application.

All rulers and those aspiring to rule should follow this noble advice for the good and welfare of everyone.  At a time when the country is faced with an intense and disruptive separatist war, everyone should unite to fight the common enemy.  We are at a most decisive moment in the history of our country and nation.  Mr. S. B. Dissanayake had said that a National Government should be formed to develop the country into one with a robust economy, for the sake of the future generations.

During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, the British Opposition unreservedly supported British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s policy against the deadly Nazi threats.  All political parties should eschew their partisan attitude and join together as a National Government, to save the country from the ruthless separatist war.





Punished for being dutiful 
The government takes stern action against officials who are guilty of neglect of duty, but, if those who religiously perform their duty are punished, or disciplinarily dealt with, it amounts to a grave injustice.

Strict security measures are observed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa since it continues to be under great threats from Tigers.  However, police officers who had examined the vehicle of a Deputy Minister, before entering into this high security area, have been found fault with, by this Deputy Minister and reported to higher authorities who have taken disciplinary action against these dutiful officers.

This is grossly unfair, since these officers have only been carrying out their duty.  In fact, they should be expected to do so, with no consideration for the level or status of the persons they examine.  As such, this unfair treatment of these police officers should be considered to set a very bad example.  It will also serve to demoralize the security forces.





Brands vs generics 
The Health Ministry is said to be taking measures to curb the prices of drugs.  The main reason for the escalation of their prices is the use of brand names of drugs, instead of generic names, by doctors while prescribing.  The disparity in prices between these two types is staggering.  Authorities are also considering enacting laws to make prescribing by generic names compulsory.  The GMOA has already expressed its support to the use of generic names in prescription.

Powerful forces are behind the relentless worldwide promotion of drugs under brand names.  Billions of Dollars are spent on such promotional campaigns.  Many things are done openly, as well as surreptitiously, to maintain the brand image of drugs.  In fact, the death of Prof. Senaka Bibile, champion for the use of generic name, under most suspicious circumstances is still a mystery.

Use of the generic name will ease the burdens placed on poor patients, who are compelled to spend stupendous amounts, merely to purchase drugs under their brand name.





Investigate customs
Members of the Public Accounts Committee had reportedly detected more than Rs. 200 million worth of electrical and other items, decaying in seven go-downs of the Customs.  These articles, imported by businessmen, had been detained by the Customs for "various reasons".  These so-called "various reasons", may be attempts and organized rackets by importers to spirit the items away from Customs through some unlawful means.

These items may also have been imported by irregular means and through false declarations.  As such, a complete and comprehensive investigation should be conducted to find out  whether racketeering was the cause for such valuable items being allowed to perish, uncleared.  Action also should be taken to block all avenues of wrongfully imported goods from being spirited out of the Customs.





Objection to holding census in Tamil areas
The census is to be conducted on July 17.  The Census and Statistics Department is going ahead with all arrangements to conduct this census throughout the country. But, several public organizations and Tamil parties have opposed the conducting of the census in the North and the East.  There are reports that the LTTE has also warned government officers to refrain from engaging in census duties.

It is a fact that a substantial portion of the people in the North-East have migrated to other areas, due to the war.  In addition, several thousands have been rendered as refugees and living away from home.  A census taken in this context will not reflect the actual permanent residency of the Tamil people.  It is also a known fact that several assessments and decisions are based on statistics collected during a census of population and housing. The objection to conducting the census in the Tamil areas, under these circumstances, is nothing but reasonable.





Traders who fleece the consumers
The escalation of prices of essential goods has affected not only the people below the poverty line, but also those who belong to the middle class.  But the authorities are not taking any action against black marketers who fill their pockets at the expense of the consumers.  The open economy system was introduced in this country in 1977, by the then UNP government.  We are now feeling the impact of this system.  On the other hand, the PA government, while spending billions of rupees for the war is equally concerned with development activities.

We hope the Cabinet Sub-Committee that has been entrusted with the responsibility of bringing down the prices of essential commodities, will be able to arrest the fleecing of consumers by profiteering traders.





The trilingual policy
The emphasis placed for a long time on teaching in the mother tongue, has now shifted to the teaching of English.  There is a great danger of forgetting the importance of teaching in the mother tongue, amidst the latest obsession of teaching in the English language.

The UNESCO has declared year 2001 as the Year of Languages.  This declaration, meaning only European languages, has no doubt, influenced the obsession in this country of teaching in the English language.  However, the fact that the English language, while acting as the link-language in this country, is also an international language cannot be gainsaid.  But, care should be taken to see that the English language does not foreshadow the national languages.

The reintroduction of the English language into the school curriculum should also be seen as a welcome alternative to the repressive measure of trying to thrust the Sinhala language on the Tamils.  The present trend of thinking in terms of three languages should be fostered.  The option for the English language is also timely with globalization.



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