In his lucid analysis of the Sri Lankan economy in the debate on the Central Bank annual report (2020) in parliament recently, opposition parliamentarian Eran Wickremaratne diagnosed the critical diseases ailing the economy and recommended a cure: Change the doctor and not the medications. Wickremaratne, however, did not identify the doctor treating the Sri Lankan [...]

Sunday Times 2

Who is Sri Lanka’s ‘doctor’?


In his lucid analysis of the Sri Lankan economy in the debate on the Central Bank annual report (2020) in parliament recently, opposition parliamentarian Eran Wickremaratne diagnosed the critical diseases ailing the economy and recommended a cure: Change the doctor and not the medications.

Wickremaratne, however, did not identify the doctor treating the Sri Lankan economy that was gasping for breath in an ICU. Those interested in the patient are well aware that not only the economy is in a critical state but its bank balances and politics are also in severe crises.

Who is the doctor responsible for the entire wellbeing of patient Lanka?
A curious development since the ‘Pohottuwa’ (Lotus Bud) government of the Rajapaksas was elected to power last year, no one is directly named or held responsible for controversial but vital decisions that have been taken, some of which have resulted in massive highway demonstrations.

We have seen cabinet minister Udaya Gammanpila being accused of unilaterally deciding on the extremely controversial hike in the price of fuel and Gammanpila vehemently denying that it was a decision of his own and that it was a consensual agreement reached with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It ended in a no-confidence motion against him in parliament with some critics of his own party voting in his favour and defeating it.

Another instance was a notice sent by the new Finance Minister, Basil Rajapaksa, cancelling the ban on organic fertiliser and permitting the import of inorganic fertiliser. Then came the clarification from the President’s Office: the import permit was only for additional nutrients such as urea and other nitrogenous compounds and not inorganic fertiliser.

A notable feature about Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry into government and politics since he became Defence Secretary to his brother President Mahinda in 2005 is he being regarded by some opposition groups with fear and his supporters and those of his family party with awe. These characteristic reactions of fear and awe for Gotabaya appear to persist still.

That could be the reason why even his opponents do not always hold him directly responsible for some decisions announced by the Government. Even some government party MPs are known to address him as ‘Sir’.
President Gotabaya was elected as the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka after he polled 52.25 percent of the votes. Amendments to the constitution after his election and with a two-thirds majority in the new parliament backing new amendments, he is a powerful executive president on par with J.R. Jayewardene and other successive executive presidents after JRJ.

But unlike JRJ, Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa who were held responsible and whipped by the Opposition and the public for their policies, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is rarely being held responsible for decisions of the current Rajapaksa Government although the constitution for all these previous regimes was practically the same. Often we hear: ‘It was a cabinet decision’ or some minister being held responsible for the move.
It is impossible to conceive that such vital decisions have been made alone by ministers who have distinguished themselves for their noise and fury — but very little sense — made in the House and not the all-powerful president. Of course, it leaves the President unscathed but smears the Government with the allegations made. The President, however, has stood by all controversial decisions made.
Lanka’s presidential system of governance with a parliament implies that the President works in tandem with parliament and the cabinet of ministers but sudden decisions such as the ban on chemical fertilisers and insecticides on which the vast number of farmers have been depending for their bountiful harvests are likely to have taken most MPs by surprise even though the President’s election manifesto had it. A few other such sudden decisions have the country going into a top spin at a time when it is being devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is rocking the stablest of nations.

Last week, people experienced extreme difficulties in finding basic needs for survival such as milk food for infants, cooking gas, unavailability of staple foods or due to their high costs while farmers protested unavailability of fertiliser. The great majority of school teachers were on strike while the entire academia was protesting the Kotelawala Defence Academy Bill, alleging militarisation of education. The ‘Gotabaya Magic’ of doing the impossible when called upon to do so seems gone.

But the unnamed ‘Doctor’ who Eran Wickremaratne wanted removed is very much there. Only a week or two ago he declared his intention of remaining in power for eight years — three of the remaining present term and another term of five years.
Old soldiers do not seem to fade away too soon. Time will tell.

Covid Royal-Thomian

The postponed 142nd Royal-Thomian was to be played on September 9 -11 at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Hambantota, reports said.  The match was to be played ‘behind closed doors without any spectators and any associated events, the reports added.

Both team coaches and the support staff along with umpires and match officials were to be in a ‘ bio-secure environment of 21 days’ adhering to COVID-19 protocols under the supervision of the Regional Health services, the reports said.

No mention was made about the rigours of the Covid Protocols being applied on the most important participants — the players in the news reports.

The logic of playing this historic encounter 345 Km away from Colombo at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium is hard to beat. Mahinda Rajapaksa has not been a student of either school!

Also, is Hambantota a Covid 19 free declared area and can the stadium provide a bio-secure environment? Who has guaranteed this?

Why can’t this match be played in a Colombo venue where players can travel from home instead of risking contracting the virus living for three days (or 21 days) in a Hambantota hotel? The same protocols intended to be applied at Hambantota can also come into play in Colombo.

Will playing the Royal-Thomian in this recently-built stadium enhance the reputation of the 141-year-old cricketing encounter — the second such oldest encounter in the world or that of the stadium? And will the wild elephants which once lived on this ground and its environs but are now roaming the highways of this town be permitted entry to watch the match?

Was the possibility of playing the match at Tim-buk-tu, instead of playing at Ham-ban-tot-a consideration in view of the fact that many Sri Lankan war heroes had been serving in Mali, Tim-buk-Tu, under the command of the United Nations?

Will all future Royal-Thomian encounters be played at this magnificent venue?



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