THE MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD OF LANKA’S BAN, BAN, BAN GOVT The Government has announced it plans to ban tobacco cultivation in the land by 2020 in accordance with the President’s determination to make Lanka a smoke free nation and the nation’s budget not be dependent henceforth on the massive revenue it brings to fill [...]


Banning mania can be hazardous to the nation’s economic health

As fags go up in price again, smokers and tobacco farmers face doomsyear come 2020 if the government goes ahead with tobacco cultivation ban

The Government has announced it plans to ban tobacco cultivation in the land by 2020 in accordance with the President’s determination to make Lanka a smoke free nation and the nation’s budget not be dependent henceforth on the massive revenue it brings to fill the national coffers.  Even as he has declared to free the Exchequer’s dependency on the excise revenue the sale of alcohol contributes to keep the rupee afloat, in the manner of his predecessor’s chinthanaya ‘mathata thitha.’ Or place full stop to both smoking and drinking. Period.

SIRISENA: Proud award winner for his anti smoking stance

This is not to promote smoking or to advocate drinking but simply to ask whether this ‘goody goody’ scouts’  policies can present a hazard to the economic health of the nation. For even whilst the president can earn his laurels at international forums as being a captain of the antismoking lobby as he is famed for winning as he did the laurels at the World Health Organisation’s summit a few years back when he was serving as the Health Minister of the Rajapaksa government, whether this nation’s people can afford to enjoy the luxury of placing the politically right notion before their bread and butter.

The recent announcement is nothing new. This nation’s bane has been this government’s ready inclination to treat banning as the first recourse before seeking a solution. For bans do not need imagination. Solutions demand thought.  Take for instance some:

Last Wednesday, Cabinet spokesman Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne epitomised the total negativity of this Government’s policy and its unconcern over the economic consequences in the process when he declared at the cabinet press briefing that “The Government would forge ahead with the death penalty directive given by President Maithripala Sirisena even if it leads to the loss of GSP Plus.”

Brave words of a brand new Lanka, no doubt. The sort that the leader of the world’s sole superpower trumpets day in and night out when he threatens China and even his European friends of imposing higher tariffs on their exports to the USA.

America with her armed power and financial might as the world’s largest economy may well afford to do that even with a trillion dollar debt. The question is: Can Lanka afford to adopt the same arrogance and give the lion roar when the only lions in her are found on her larger and her national flag? And can hardly but squeak?

But does this coalition government fathom the economic cost that was caused to the nation as a result at the previous regime’s total disregard to human rights? And how much effort was taken since 2015 by its own ministers, spearheaded by its Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to convince the European nations that the Lankan government of President Sirisena had turned the corner and the dark days were over, in order to regain the GSP Plus status?

With the grant of the GSP Plus by the EU last year  the sun dawned again for hundreds of garment factory owners who had staked their last shirt in a sink-or-swim struggle to keep their factories operating and thousands of  their workers in employment. Now just when the sun nears high noon, presidential talk of banning the life of another human being — as His Holiness Pope Francis stated ten months ago ‘whatever crime, however serious the crime the death penalty is inadmissible’  — threatens to eclipse and dooms it to prematurely set and  blacken the garment landscape. Not only the garment sector but also the prospects of over 100 of industries who benefit from it.

HEALTH MINISTER RAJITHA: Beedi is better than a cigarette

And for what? Just to make the 18 on death row swing? And enforce not selective law enforcement the present government accused the previous regime of practising but to implement selective punishment on the spurious evidence of some prison guards? As Minister Rajitha Senaratne said last Wednesday “A list of 19 such individuals drafted by the intelligence services have been forwarded to the Justice Ministry so that the government can carry out the death sentence.” But is that jurisprudential basis to hang a man or more a kangaroo court of Yahapalana justice?

Then take glyphosate. On October 1, 2015, under the Control of Pesticides Act, the Registrar of Pesticides issued a gazette notification cancelling every licence issued in respect of pesticides containing the glyphosate. It was done, it was said, in the interest of the public and on the advice of the Pesticides Technical and Advisory Committee.

But, in a gazette notification dated July 11, 2018, the Registrar of Pesticides said that on the advice of the Pesticides Technical and Advisory Committee, he was rescinding the 2015 order. Like the ban on asbestos, ban today, gone tomorrow.

Doesn’t the Cabinet of Ministers pause and think before they approve a ban for it to be lifted the following sunrise at the whim and fancy of their lord and master at his sole whim and fancy? And realise that as a result of it, this government faces a credibility problem, the kind of which no other government has ever faced before?  Ranil Wicremesinghe, as the Prime Minister of this coalition government, may be helpless, but isn’t he embarrassed at the bans and second thoughts thereafter made in the manner of the vacillating moon?

Not to forget, of course, the government’s original sin of banning the Chinese funded Port City upon immediately coming to power. Only to succumb, a couple of yers later, to the reality and give the official nod for it to go ahead. What did the procrastination achieve? If there has to be madness in government’s banning decisions, shouldn’t there at least be a method to it?

Now the government has thought it fit to ban tobacco cultivation. With the aim, with the ultimate end in mind, no doubt, for its leaders to win another medal or two at a future World Health Organisation summit of making Lanka a totally smoke-free nation. In the same manner of Bhutan which became the first and only nation to boast a totally cigarette-free country in the world. Finland is next on line and was intending to go smoke-free in 2020 but has shelved its plans to totally ban smoking till 2030.

The Lankan government hasn’t still announced its intention to impose a total ban. Its policy seems to be to cut off the blood supply to make the patient die a natural death. Ignoring the economic consequences that will follow.

As the Sunday Punch commented on 1st July ‘Along with his predecessor at the Ministry of Health, the present Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne has been at the forefront of banning cigarette smoke from fouling Lanka’s pristine air. And, together with President Sirisena, has vowed to do so by 2020 in accordance with the government’s general policy and practice to ban everything it considers reprehensible with scant regard to the impact such peremptory bans have on the social and economic climate. One such farming industry facing such a ban is tobacco cultivation. And done on the grounds to protect the nation’s health. ‘

About 20,000 farmers are directly involved in tobacco cultivation. With 300,000 dependents. According to Minister Bathiudeen around 700,000 are employed in this sector directly and indirectly. The ban will thus threaten the livelihood of nearly a million people.

Tobacco cultivation is mainly done between the four months gap of the Maha and Yala paddy seasons when paddy cannot be grown due to the scarcity of water. Farmers use the lean mean drought months to grow tobacco leaves instead, since tobacco needs only one seventh of the water that paddy demands.

Presently approximately 2,500 hectares are under tobacco cultivation during the seasonal Maha-Yala gap. Matale, Kandy, Anuradhapura, Moneragala, Badulla, Ampara, Kurunegala, Hambantota, Nuwara Eliya and the president’s own hometown Polonnaruwa are the main areas in which tobacco is grown by over 20,000 farmers with 300,000 dependents.

But oddly enough, the government has no plans to ban the import of tobacco to keep the Ceylon tobacco company from rolling its paper wrapping around imported tobacco instead of the homegrown stuff to keep the nation’s two million odd smokers puffing. Though at a greater cost. And a greater drain on the nation’s foreign currency reserves.

The government seems not to understand the illogical position of the tobacco cultivation ban for Lanka’s farmers: To deny 20,000 tobacco farmers the opportunity of improving their incomes by banning them from cultivation tobacco whilst allowing the import of tobacco for farmers abroad to better their lifestyles.

Last year alone the cigarette industry contributed a hefty 117 billion bucks in excise taxes to buffer the nation’s financial demands, especially to provide for the Rs 178 billion bucks that were allocated to the Health Ministry last year.  As it has done for decades and become one of the main financiers to enable the government to balance its books when it comes to good housekeeping and to keep the nation’s physical and economic health ship shape.

But, even as the Government continues to tax cigarettes and the propaganda machine works fulltime to blast the hazards of smoking a regulated legal cigarette, what is even odder is the Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne’s recent statement to promote the beedi as the nation’s best smoke.

At a recent press conference, Doctor Rajitha  claimed that to smoke  the unregulated beedi was less harmful to health than the regulated cigarette. Perhaps that’s why the Government has shown such favoritism to the humble beedi and left it untaxed when it comes to point of sale.

The beedi is wrapped with the Tendu leaf. Before May 2018 the duty on its import plus cess was Rs 250 per kilo. In May this year the tax was raised to Rs. 750 per kilo. But in July, two months later, probably in view of its health benefits, the tax was reduced to Rs 250 per kilo. Once this tax has been paid, that’s it. No other taxes are levied upon it. And the tobacco in which the Tendu leaf is wrapped is in the main imported from abroad. And guess what? With the exorbitant taxes placed on cigarettes, the beedi has captured 51 percent of the smoking class whilst cigarettes have fallen to 43 percent.

Whilst the regulated cigarette contributes more than a hundred billion bucks to the Government treasury each year, the sale of beedi contributes none, except for the tax on imported tendu leaf in which imported tobacco finds home in.

It’s time to caution the government:

What’s the logic behind banning tobacco cultivation in Lanka and depriving twenty thousand farmers of this country from earning an honest living and still allow the import of tobacco from abroad enabling farmers in those countries to better their stand of living?

What’s the medical evidence that beedi smoking is better than smoking a cigarette and why the beedi is favoured when it comes to taxation? The cost of a beedi is Rs 5. This Wednesday the government increased the tax on a single cigarette by Rs. 3.50.

Why the ban solution is the government’s first resort and not its last recourse?

Why this government fails to understand, at the cost of its own popularity amongst the masses, that the economic consequences of banning should also be taken into account without rushing to ban, ban ban everything in its sight?

At this rate what next to ban? Sex, perhaps? As sexual intercourse has been identified and scientifically proven to be a direct cause of a nation’s population boom? And thus not only tax it but ban it altogether, Sirisena style?

The moral dimension

THE FAMOUS DUO: The British Prime Minister and his dodgy Permanent Secretary

Herewith a transcript to tickle your buds of humour of a sconce from the famous British comedy Yes Prime Minister which portrays the moral dilemma the present government presently faces and has no answer to.

Humphrey: Ah, Prime Minister.

PM: Humphrey.

Humphrey: I was just wondering, did you have an interesting chat with Dr. Thorne?

PM: Yes, he proposed the elimination of smoking.

[Humphrey laughs]

Humphrey: By a campaign of mass hypnosis perhaps.

PM: By raising tobacco taxes sky high and simultaneously banning all advertising including a point of sale.

[Humphrey laughs]

PM: Don’t you think his position is admirably moral?

Humphrey: Moral perhaps but extremely silly. No man in his right mind could possibly contemplate such a proposal.

PM: I’m contemplating it.

Humphrey: Yes, of course Prime Minister. Please don’t misunderstand me. It is quite right of course that you should CONTEMPLATE all proposals that come from your government but no sane man would ever support it.

PM: I’m supporting it.

Humphrey: And quite right too, Prime Minister. The only problem is that the tax on tobacco is a major source of revenue for the government.

PM: It’s also a major source of death from killer diseases.

Humphrey: Oh yes, but no definite causative link has ever been proved, has it?

PM: The statistics…

Humphrey: Statistics, you could prove anything with statistics.

PM: Even the truth.

Humphrey: Yuh… No!

PM: It says here “Smoking-related diseases cost the National Health Service S £165 million a year.”

Humphrey: Yes, but we’ve been into that. It has been shown that if those extra 100,000 people had lived to a ripe old age they would have cost us even more in pensions and social security than they did in medical treatment. So, financially speaking it’s unquestionably better that they continue to die at about the present rate.

PM: “When cholera killed 30,000 people in 1833, we got the Public Health Act. When smog killed 2500 people in 1952, we got the Clean Air Act.” A commercial drug kills half a dozen people and we get it withdrawn from sale. Cigarettes kill 100,000 people a year and what do we get?

Humphrey: £4 billion a year. 25,000 jobs in the tobacco industry, a flourishing cigarette export industry helping our balance of trade, 250,000 jobs related to tobacco – newsagent, packaging, transport.

PM: These figures are just guesses.

Humphrey: No, they’re government statistics.  they’re facts.

PM: I see, so your statistics are facts and my facts are merely statistics?

Humphrey: Prime Minister, I’m on your side. I’m merely giving some of the arguments you will encounter.

PM: Thank you Humphrey, I’m so glad to know that we still have support such as yours.

Humphrey: But Prime Minister, it will be pointed out that the tobacco companies are great sponsors of sport. Now where would the BBC Sports programmes be if cigarette companies couldn’t adv… couldn’t SPONSOR the events that they televise.

PM: Humphrey, we’re talking about a 100,000 deaths a year.

Humphrey: Yes, but cigarette taxes pay for a third of the cost of the National Health Service. We’re saving many more lives than we otherwise could because of those smokers who voluntarily lay down their lives for their friends. Smokers are national benefactors.


Holy Father Pope Francis reiterates: The Death Penalty is ‘inadmissible’

Last week the Sunday Times published a letter to the Editor addressed to Don Manu by a reader B. Joseph who took umbrage over the comments expressed in the Sunday Punch of July 15th with reference to the article titled “ Execute them’ says the Archbishop, hang the lot says Bodu Bala Pope.’

In his letter, the writer claims the Archbishop never advocated the death penalty in toto. That is not disputed. For the Sunday Punch never stated he did. But only questioned the Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith’s advocacy of the death penalty when it came to hanging convicted drug traffickers sentenced to death by the courts and now in death row who still dealt in drugs within Welikada walls.

Especially when Archbishop’s own supreme overlord His Holiness Pope Francis had already declared the new catechism of the Holy See last year in October at the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican whereat he declared unequivocally that:

“Capital punishment heavily wounds human dignity. And is an inhuman measure. It is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor.”

“The death penalty not only extinguishes a human life, it extinguishes the possibility that the person, recognizing his or her errors, will request forgiveness and begin a new life. In the past, when people did not see any other way for society to defend itself against serious crime and when “social maturity” was lacking, people accepted the death penalty as “a logical consequence of the application of justice.”

“Let us take responsibility for the past and recognize” that use of the death penalty was “dictated by a mentality that was more legalistic than Christian,” Pope Francis said. “Remaining neutral today when there is a new need to reaffirm personal dignity would make us even more guilty.”

“The word of God,” he said, “cannot be saved in mothballs as if it were an old blanket to protect against insects.”

The Christian faith, he said, always has insisted on the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death. So, the church has a continuing obligation to speak out when it realizes something that was accepted in the past actually contradicts church teaching.

“Therefore, it is necessary to reiterate that, no matter how serious the crime committed, the death penalty is inadmissible, because it attacks the inviolability and dignity of the person,”

It was a statement that the Holy Father reiterated this Thursday and firmly to dispel all doubts as to the stance of the Catholic Church.

As the BBC reported this Thursday:

“Pope Francis has changed the teachings of the Catholic faith to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, the Vatican has said. The Catechism of the Church, which sums up the teachings, had previously stated that the death penalty could be used in some cases.

It now says it is “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”.

Last October, he had said the Church’s policy on the death penalty was one area where teaching was not static and could change with modern concerns. The text of the catechism was first set by Pope John Paul II in October 1992. The teachings had earlier stated that the death penalty was “an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good”.

However, the new text says there is “an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes”.

It also argues that today’s more effective detention methods protect citizens and “do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption”. The Church will now work with determination for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, a statement from the Holy See said.

As far as the writer B. Joseph’s view that humans have the right to play God and decide who amongst them are unworthy to live, perhaps the above statement  declared His Holiness Pope François in October last year and restated and reaffirmed as the new catechism of the catholic theology may make him think again. Even as it should His Grace the Archbishop of Colombo.

Now let us hope and pray that if there had been lingering demons of doubt in Catholic minds still as to where  the Catholic Church presently stood on the issue of the death penalty that the statement Pope Francis made last year and reaffirmed, reiterated and swore on the Holly Bible  that the death penalty is

‘contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor;

and that it is necessary to reiterate that, no matter how serious the crime committed, the death penalty is inadmissible, because it attacks the inviolability and dignity of the person;

Will serve to exorcise those lingering demons of doubt harbouring in Catholic hearts and minds and finally lay it to rest. Riven by the stake the Holy Father plunged into the phantom, not once but twice. Amen. So be it.




Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.