Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Economic Rights in the Constitution, through Legislation, through normal Policy framework of the Government in Power enacting their Manifestos.

ADVOCATA lecture, by Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Political Scientist) on Implications of Incorporating Socio-Economic Rights in the Constitution in Sri Lanka held at the Excel World Auditorium on Tuesday, 21st February 2017 @ 6pm

Additional Panelist Dr Harsha de Silva, Deputy Foreign Minister
Moderator Prof Rohan Samarajiva

Prof Pratap Mehta’s lecture was delivered in an informative and easy to follow manner, interspersed with many real life examples that clearly gave the audience the contrasts, with reference also to the recent examples of Constitutions such as South Africa and Brazil, though he was more familiar with the Indian one.

The bottom line here is how do we best protect our citizens’ rights? Then go through all the rights a civilized society must have, and then determine how many of those rights a particular Country can provide using the State Apparatus, within the financial means of that particular Economy at the time. Of these rights, go through what should realistically be enshrined within the Constitution, that can actually be practically protected, and the rest be left to legislation and changing policy framework depending on each Government’s particular interest represented by their Constituencies demands upon being Democratically Elected.

In this manner, we come to the best method of categorizing these rights, without trying to do the impossible out of DOGMA which results in a PERVERSE outcome, where the exact opposite of what was expected happens!

As some have reiterated, the ONLY rights other than the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an International Treaty, that I believe the Sri Lankan Government has signed onto, the SL Constitution should merely contain:

The Right to Breathe Clean Air, The Right to Eat Uncontaminated Food and the Right to Drink Pure Water. In short these rights would form part of a sustainable framework of Environmental Protection that will result in these guarantees being met, and the rest would automatically follow with out specificity.

It is quite clear the more specific one gets within a Constitution, the more difficult it is for that society to enforce remedies through the Courts, when those rights are violated. When there is a specific inclusion, then you can insist that this inclusion is given to ALL. If the State cannot fund that inclusion, then no amount of forcing is going to correct the situation. Here even the remedy cannot be guaranteed, except at the expense of other rights of a much larger number being sacrificed!

If one takes the case of the right to have Dialysis provided by the State: If this is enshrined in the Constitution, then, the Courts would award this to those who have been denied. Then the Health Ministry will be forced to use its limited funds to provide this FOR ALL WHO REQUIRE IT. Then it is possible that many other health benefits could be denied for 100 times as many people due to their lack of funds once this right is fulfilled as mandated.

In the case of the Indian Constitution, some general socio economic rights have been interpreted by the Courts to include many that were NOT envisaged. If this interpretation is enforced by the Courts, they effectively nullify it by NOT giving the remedy if it is violated, letting the State off the Hook in having to provide that which has been deemed to have been denied.

In the proposed changes to the Constitution, that Dr Harsha read out, he said they propose the right to Primary and Secondary Education as well as Tertiary rights to the extent that the State at the time is ABLE to provide, NOT forcing the state to provide to ALL who seek it. They additionally permit the right to Education within the private sector, an important addition which implies that people with means if they so choose, can forsake state subsidized education and instead avail themselves of getting all or part of their education from the private sector. 

The problem with this inevitably is that those who can pay will choose the best, and the best costs the most, so the best teachers will be paid the most to teach those who are willing to pay the most, who in the end could be the BEST educated people, due to their economic power. With the state’s inability to match salaries, you will get the second best, or the quality of teacher, commensurate with what you are paying for, which could mean that students in the State system get a very poor education if the state does NOT allocate sufficient resources to provide quality.

We have another serious issue in Sri Lanka, where State Teachers in schools and universities, supplement their income in the private sector, while ALSO drawing their state salaries. They give the Private Sector more of their time and energy in teaching, and due to less regulation on attendance etc. short change the state sector out of their time and effort, resulting in the State suffering further in quality due to the PERMISSABILITY of private education. This anomaly cannot be expressly denied in the Constitution from a FR point of view. This issue applies to Doctors too, which is where we come to the inevitable. Namely “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!”

Property Rights and Eminent Domain were also discussed, in light of those who don’t even have any property, as to what rights do they have if any, especially when it comes to living in other people’s property, and are subjected to eviction. The reverse is that if the dispossessed cannot rent due to the landlord’s rights being denied, and the fair balance established, defining what exactly is fair.

What does it mean when you talk about the right to Life? What about the right to Education? Healthcare? Property? Food if you are starving? Welfare basics? Employment or minimum wage or minimum family income guaranteed?

It was said that more recent constitutions incorporate MORE Socio Economic Rights than older ones, however in order to fulfill these rights, the State must have a Higher Tax Base where a higher GDP ratio is raised by the State in Taxes. How high? Taxation does not enter into this debate, however in order to practically enforce additional rights in the Constitution, they can ONLY be fulfilled if the state has greater access to funds via more equitable taxation in order to pay for all these benefits on behalf of the people.

In looking at practical examples it is clear that, “Countries with less rigid inclusions in the Constitution and Legislation of what is basic”, actually have more and not less because of it. Electricity and Telecommunication is a case in point in Sri Lanka. EVEN WITHOUT specificity in the Constitution or Legislation, everyone has been provided with electricity, which they pay for based on their consumption, and it is the same for Telecommunications, and even more to the point, the Govt. collects tax on the use of Mobile phones which permeates ALL society, even though those who use these facilities may not have access to health, shelter and education!

This seriously begs the question, how free should be free? If we all HAVE to pay a minimum, then our health and education provision can be so much better, resulting in an overall benefit, on the premise that if you pay for something, even though it is a fraction of the cost, you MAY appreciate it, NOT abuse it, and actually make BETTER and more CONSIDERED choices increasing the overall productivity to the Economy. It will be a benefit to ALL.

To explain: Rs200 for one hospital visit may reduce frivolous use. Some may prefer to go private. This reduced demand on health services will permit better healthcare for those who seek it as there will be more resources for cure. Wellness programs will reduce incidence of illness. Ironically, a patient may pay Rs400 round trip for a three wheeler to go to a free hospital, when they could spend no money for travel and seen by a local doctor for Rs300, saving the patient both travel time and cost. If there is an entry fee of Rs 200, the patient will far more likely make the choice to see the local doctor, thereby saving all round!  


Clearly dogma must be set aside, and practically solutions in the best interest of society as a whole adopted to achieve the desired GOALS of a Country.   

The problem with Sri Lanka is that we are simply unable to have a unanimous agreement on what our Policy Goals should be in a holistic and macro sense for the overall benefit of the NATION

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Free Education Myth


While I believe EVERY civilized society MUST provide an excellent (FREE) foundation for a child’s basic education up to O level standard (age 16), thereon, NOTHING should be free.

Try to keep this old saying in your head as it applies to education also!

 “Good things NO cheap, Cheap things NO good!”

This is where Sri Lanka has got it all wrong. The Kannangara Reforms were correct, but only up to the O levels, and in an era when few places were open for A levels and University the additional cost was not great and the quality of education received by them was also good so at the initial stages I don’t believe the costs were untenable as it is now becoming to provide A level and Tertiary Education FREE.

Many would argue that the Country is NOT even spending 2% of the GNP on Education, let alone the recommended 6%.

To counter this  my argument is, that in the end the State has NO clue on how to spend without wasting money either, so that point is MOOT as I don’t believe we have a cost and value conscious mindset in the Public Sector to prioritize with the recipient’s (Student’s) best interest in mind. The simple example was the increase in Education Allocation last year when compared with the previous years, and the Public Servants were unable to spend any of it as they were just geared to do short term expansions when there were NO human resources to draw on in the first place.

The powerful teachers unions still don’t realize what a tragedy their contribution or lack of it has been to the students who are their charges, as they are trying to defend the rights of the Teachers in much the same way that the IUSF are trying to defend the rights of the Undergraduates, with only a politically motivated issue being traded instead of actually increasing the quality and ability of the Teaching Staff to meet the student needs of 2017. No they don’t care about their charges one bit!

In this politically expedient desire of trying to please ALL COMERS, nothing is done well, and we are left with a mediocre HR resource, with the best seeking employment overseas, be it temporary or permanent, with most of my readers coming from this permanent category, forsaking their country for their family’s well being.

A band of poorly educated second class mass is all that is left in Sri Lanka, under the present State Education system due to this Free Education demand. They are then ready to be exploited by the 8th grade cunning and opportunistic politicians, and savvy businessmen, who are both collectively able to exploit this mediocrity for their own advantage.

As a result of this history, we can neither blame the “Savvy Businessmen” and “Cunning Politician” who both combine their resources to “Fool the Masses”. This is as old as history and what Marx and Engels saw, but the left of the political stage in Sri Lanka, be they the initial Communists, Trotskyites, LSSPers, and later the JVP were never able to galvanize the thought process as their whole “MANTRA” was about exploitation of the working classes by the Capitalist Establishment that included the two classes referred to earlier who still hold sway.

They were never able to clearly see that there was NO such conscious plan by the Sri Lankan Elite, except to use their advantage of birth and contacts and relationships, to take advantage of this people’s “MINDSET” for their own ends.

WHAT IS THIS MINDSET? Simply the cultural inability to work together as one for the “COMMON GOOD”, even in one’s own home in the face of this BEHEMOTH!

The only way to change the “MINDSET” even today and it can easily be done as a collective effort if necessary, is if we begin with a blank sheet of paper, look at our most precious human resource, those children ages 2 to 4 before they go to Primary, determine what as a Nation they should be as productive citizens in our society, and once this is known, gradually instill the fundamentals through the next 13 years of formal education to reach that goal or target. No doubt some will fall by the wayside, but if we have a 50% success rate that is more than enough to be a game changer. It is not easy it is not quick but it is proven.

War Ravaged Korea did this at grass roots level in a scorched land at the end of the Korean war when people HAD to eat whatever that moved or grew for survival to get to where they are now. We did not suffer as much so it is that much harder to make the effort!

We in Sri Lanka have many examples from all over the world and we should adapt our own home grown version of this, to select the best approach to achieve this goal, with the latest technology at our disposal, using distance learning techniques, drones, and 3 D printing.

If only Sri Lanka had spent its total Education Budget up to the O level standard, in producing the visionary empowered and motivated workforce, they will then choose their tertiary model for which they will gladly pay, and the best be awarded scholarships due to the competition amongst institutions for the best, and we will not be in the mess we are currently in, due to poor decisions making back then!

We would have a more proportionate dignity of labor today, where the Farmer and Electrician earning Rs200K a month may have a higher status than doctors on Rs100K, and NOT create a false elitism that dogs our society. This will be at the equilibrium of supply and demand of labor in the marketplace, without built in barriers to mobility that now result in import of labor for construction and tourism, when we have huge waste of labor in under-utilized areas such as three wheel drivers!

Mark you because the Left never really understood these basics they could NOT find traction, and now the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) is trying to gain traction as its successor. They are trying to agitate for the same bankrupt ideas, by appealing to the educated professionals in the hinterland highlighting the business as usual theme that the present YAHAPALANAYA Govt is indulging in.

They will ONLY impoverish society if their demands are met, by frightened politicos, instead of EMPOWERING IT.

Why is it so difficult for the present crop of politicians to  change this status quo in one stroke of a pen by passing new legislation when they have a 2/3 rds majority in the Parliament? The system surely needs a radical overhaul. Is it because they don’t care a damn about the Country or its future, as their personal and family futures are assured be it here or overseas, by their legal or illegal modus operandi? They as a whole are simply worrying about the next election cycle, that has been the bane of this 70 year independence history!

My contention is that to change if we are able to harness the most radical of the lot, namely students, to see the light from their darkness! They must first realize that they have been following the same PIED PIPER to their graves all these years, and they must do a complete U turn to take the initial group of COURAGEOUS YOUTH to explain the facts, simply and truthfully.

 THAT IS ALL


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Public as in State University Education in need of radical overhaul to meet the demands of the present and future



A topic was prepared for discussion as below, but I contend the issue is really with the poor quality of State Education, and here I concentrate on the State Universities that are under the purview of the UGC

Non- State Actors in Higher Education – Issues and Challenges

SHOULD THIS BE THE REAL TOPIC?

The topic implies that the problems lie in the Non State sector of Higher Education and I contend that it is the State Sector that in realty has the issues and Challengers and the Non-State Sector is better prepared to face all Challengers thrown at them!

Let us go back to why we are even talking about this topic

Let us concentrate on 2017 and beyond. The State System with the exception of a few Medical Faculties, Moratuwa University and a few Faculties dotted here and there, like The Faculty of Management at Jayawardenapura is BROKE.

In the past however, the illustrious Alumni of the State University System that was a fraction of the size it is today, with the move to Peradeniya Campus and there were NO non-state actors, except Professional Institutions awarding qualifications, made this Country proud with their accomplishments both in Sri Lanka and Overseas.

The State Universities are today NOT even in contention with Global Universities!

The Topic should then be how we should transform the State Universities to be more responsive to the needs of the future Student, which the Private Sector is forced out of necessity to be more proactive to the market demands to survive.

The only way many who follow State University degrees appear to overcome their inadequacies is by successfully passing International Accredited Qualifications such as CIMA and CIM to add to their State Degree in order to be marketable to the prospective employer. Many do this whilst at University!

The day of reckoning has now arrived to take the “bull by the horn” and shake it up, to clean out the dead matter and infuse life into what remains without further delay.

How do we do it? Instead of playing the numbers game which is politically expedient by increasing the number of entrants at all Universities, we MUST improve the QUALITY. However before doing so we MUST plug into the National HR requirement for the Country as a whole for the next 25 years as best as can be forecast.

Once we get an idea of the workplace of the future and where Sri Lanka fits in there, we can then estimate what our future needs are, what our core competencies are  and then attempt to mold our products in the Universities, (subjects) to meet these challenges. We cannot wallow in traditional and outmoded ideas anymore.

This requires a revolution in thinking.

The State Universities are simply NOT producing what the workplace requires. Frankly this is left to be filled by this much maligned PRIVATE NON STATE ACTORS! Therein lies the difference. The users, “the students who pay, some too much, vote with their feet and will not go there, unless they perceive their benefits.

By NON-State I also include Private Public Partnerships such as NIBM and NSBM with the latest avatar being the Green University Town of Pitipana. The latter is supposed to cater to the marketplace of the future by courses that assure graduates security of employment.

WHAT THEN IS THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY?

It is best to remember that ALL O level and A level students of the future are plugged into Social Media that increases their awareness of what is out there, the pros and cons and so are better able to make decisions about their lives than those in the past. They therefore are painfully aware, and perhaps more so than most people in this audience, that the “Present Education System” DOES NOT cater to their needs, to give them a future of security and prosperity in their motherland.

In reality, they the youth, are better able to draw upon peer reviews to choose the better value for money Institutions, especially in the currently unregulated private sector, perhaps surprising those who we may appoint in the future to do just the same! A REGULATORY BODY

There is a clamour in the Department of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education to regulate these private Universities, which they in effect are, as they grant degrees and post graduate qualifications. Many have time spent at the final year at foreign universities, but even this is becoming a thing of the past with all studies being undertaken locally. In the eyes of the prospective employer these are a darn sight better than the local equivalents, of lower rankings, and more importantly give them a young graduate at 21 or 22 years rather than a state University product of between 26 or 27 years of age. They are able to more easily work with an outward looking graduate rather than an entitlement loving local one!

RETURNING TO THE THEME OF REGULATION  

Let there be standard regulation of ALL Universities on the same criteria, both Private and State, then a more accurate basis of comparison can emerge, but I fear this will be prevented tooth and nail, for fear of being outed! The State Sector I mean.

Of course the Private Sector will welcome this regulation so that the fluff will be highlighted from the serious established and reputed ones. This will merely assist and NOT assure parents who fork out millions to choose that which will give the best bang for their buck for their offspring.

It is well to remember that those clamoring for regulating Private Universities or “Factories of Higher Learning”, as some who wish to denigrate them call it, have forgotten the fact that the supposed standards being upheld by the UGC for the State Sector also leaves much to be desired. This is proved by the fact that many graduates from these faculties cannot find employment in an environment of an increasing level of vacancies in the private sector that remain unfilled. Employers knowing the quality, vote with their feet by not taking them on even for apprenticeships.

The fact that they are then forced to seek employment in the Public Sector, where they have the suitable basic entry level requirements, DOES NOT mean that they make productive and useful public servants.

In conclusion similar criteria must be adopted to regulate both with equal severity for fair comparison, as that is the need of the hour. Only then will their standards improve based on more autonomy to the University VC to manage their Campuses.

I am afraid the FALLOUT MAY NOT BE POLITICALLY ACCEPTABLE!

UNIVERSITY EDUCATION REVISITED

What is University Education in Sri Lanka primarily for? It is NOT to provide research centers or centers of excellence for Pure Science or Esoteric Studies! It is to provide the knowledgeable graduate, taken from the most intelligent in society, using the Z score rankings, to be able to contribute to the SUSTAINABLE GROWTH of this Country, and with it to grow their personal lives, to provide them with a quality of life, commensurate with their ability.

It is NOT to provide labor for emigration to developed Countries, as has been the case for a number of years, at the expense of their contribution to the mother land, to say nothing of the cost. In this sphere, it must be mentioned that the policies of the promotion and filling of vacancies in the Academic Staff, has lead to some highly qualified people remaining in foreign parts, after Postgraduate work due to the dearth of opportunities in their motherland. They have excelled internationally.

In short this has been a failure and we MUST turn it into a success. The Challenge is ours.

HOW DO WE DO IT? HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THIS SO CALLED SEA CHANGE?

THE NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY

A proposal for a new National Education Policy has been recently prepared and submitted to the President by the National Institute of Education. I have not gone through that document. Let us hope that many of these fundamental issues have been addressed rather than merely putting sticking plaster on existing breakages.

The Government speaks of 13 years of Compulsory Free State Education to arm the student for the future employment marketplace. Their aim is to force students to spend two more years in school to improve their employment skills.

I completely disagree with this notion, instead a more meaningful alternative would be for the 13 years to include 2 pre-school years with sufficient facilities at that PRESCHOOL LEVEL, to produce empowered students by O level, who have the ability to choose, and know how to choose, their vocation as soon as they complete their O levels, They will then know if they wish to continue in School or leave and pursue their dreams, with evening classes etc. to obtain the necessary qualifications whilst working full time, as is done in most developed Countries.

All child psychologists will agree that the manners, behavior and 5S type character building, in this extremely sensitive and formative age, is far more important to a child’s overall future development than anything that is forced on a student after O levels.

Another point to note is that students who drop out prior to O levels or at O levels appear to know more about what they want, despite their lower apparent skills. That is why this group as a whole has a lower unemployment rate than the more skilled!

What the latter need are the Vocational Training Institutes to provide them with their accredited qualifications, while they are working, as they can increase their incomes with certification in their particular skills as is done the world over, except in Sri Lanka! It is easier to help those who wish to be helped, rather than force people to stay longer as a rule, where arguably their lack of maturity means they may not know what they want anyway, and so are unable to choose subjects of their particular aptitude.

To illustrate this point further, and to show you how out of touch our Education Policies are, lets look at the 75,000 students who are currently in their A level classes studying these popular three subjects as in some cases they are the only ones available in their particular school with the required teaching staff.

They are Political Science, Sinhala and Buddhist Civilization. Why? Oh Why? We all know that even at PhD level this is sometimes NOT be sufficient to guarantee economic livelihood! So in spite of a tiny fraction who excel in these subjects,
it is a complete waste of time for the rest, dispatching them, our youth to a lifetime of disappointment and NO ONE has even TODATE addressed this single issue in order to create a debate to arrive at some solutions.

Upon graduating from State Universities it is more out of duty that vacancies are gazetted! And taken into Public Service! They generally form the second class fodder in the Public Service, (there are always exceptions to the rule but in general) 
Warming the seats as of right , but contributing little to the cutting out or red tape and ensuring the smooth working of the state to complement the Private Sector  to grow, instead of using their positions to put further barriers when it comes to complying with Government regulations for this and that for the Private Sector.

They do not see the Private Sector as an engine of growth but merely an engine of capitalism that should be arrested.

There is therefore only one way to get out of this vicious cycle, by encouraging excellence, something that is NOT stressed in our society. Competition with Private Higher Education will eventually improve the quality of the State Sector but that will take time at our current rates of change. They will be forced to compete for the same student.

It is clear that 25% of students selected to University today, in the State Sector NOW refuse admission and go elsewhere? They are the first batch of these social media generation who are beginning to realize what a waste of time it is!

Intelligent students have already decided that they have BETTER options than graduating at age 27! What will happen when the refusal rate hits 75%? The best of those selected in future will go private as they will believe that for their level of intelligence they have better options to say nothing of the fact that some of these private Universities will OFFER SCHOLARSHIPS TO THE BEST which will then take the element of payment out of our BEST.

RESULTS CRITERIA AND REALITY

It is increasingly becoming clear to the Student mainly as a result of the rapid advancement in social media, that leadership qualities arising from Sports, Debating Societies, being musically minded and being able to play an instrument, and other extra curricular activities, are as much or more important than A level results per se in the eyes of the employers.

When this becomes the UNIVERSAL TRUTH, Academic and Results based University Entrance, will become a thing of the past and the Z score will soon have to be laid to rest, and already I firmly believe it is NOT even relevant in 2017.

It seems that people do not have the political will to face this reality, and so the system is NOT in keeping with the marketplace, resulting in the mismatch between expectations and reality.

This can only be changed by consensus understanding that unless a paradigm shift takes place in THINKING, we in Sri Lanka will not achieve the people’s expectations.

It is the people’s expectations eventually  that matter, when they are in a position to make choices in 2017, with the skills needed in 2017, and if they choose not to offer their labor, it is themselves who have made the choice on their own, because they have determined they do NOT have the skills that are needed for them to prosper, and it is better for them as an alternative to live on what they currently have, and they do NOT add an iota to the Country’s growth. We should NOT denigrate them as they have made a lifestyle choice, which if they had the opportunity afforded by a visionary policy, their lives MAY be more fulfilled!

ANY COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS FROM MY READERS WILL BE MOST APPRECIATED


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Future of Agriculture and Food Security in light of Policy Changes and Climate Change

– A jointly organized, by the Marga Institute and the Gamani Corea Foundation, held at the BMICH on 30th January 2017

The keynote speaker was Professor Buddhi Marambe - Professor of Crop Science of the University of Peradeniya along with three other speakers.

A synopsis of each of the talks will be available shortly at the Marga Institute Blog

I will not go into any detail on each talk but merely comment on what I managed to glean from the various talks to form my personal opinion on the matter and would invite comments on interested readers on my conclusions.

The overriding theme was the fact that in light of the unpredictability of the climate, with a yearlong drought that we are experiencing as a backdrop, we have to take certain steps on the assumption that this is the norm, to ensure food security for the people who live in Sri Lanka.

Against this need, the current unscientific policy making by those in power, effectively relegating the whole of the Agricultural Community, academics and the private sector to the dustbin, the infatuation with CKDU and the fundamental misunderstanding about its cause and effects as well as the hell for leather theme of “WASAVISAN THORA RATAK” whilst appealing to the public, is a flawed concept if we are to ensure FOOD SECURITY in the short term.

It is the simple fact that if one takes rice for example, where the yields of traditional varieties are at best 25% of the present, it is courting disaster if we are to adopt this as a national policy! The proponent of the policy, being the Venerable Rathana Thero, who has influenced the President to adopt this approach without ANY consultation with the scientific or farming community, is a very dangerous route, nullifying the enormous gains on productivity achieved in Sri Lanka between 1946 and 2015 to go from food deficit to food surplus, putting this achievement in jeopardy.

It is therefore important to understand the basics of FOOD SECURITY and need thereof, before making irrational short term policy directions in areas like banning glyphosate, where Sri Lanka is the ONLY country on the face of the Earth so to do

Whilst the word organic is bandied about without any real practical means of how to achieve anywhere near required yields, this food can at present ONLY be indulged in by the haves. It is the(BAP) BEST AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES that need to be adopted without delay to lend credibility to the food we consume.

In consideration of climate changes, it was pointed out that our dry zone rainfall can be referred to as wet zone rainfall in some African Countries, and we have to be more aware of means to produce yields with minimal water requirements, and to that extent low water use crops must be encouraged, and if necessary the whole aspect of nutrition revisited, where we consume less rice, and more vegetables, by these alternative practices, to improve nutrition, and change consumption habits to ensure a healthy populace.

In that context a holistic approach that ties in Land Use, Land Consolidation, Soil Conservation and Regeneration, Awareness of the acute shortage of agricultural workforce, more mechanization, Crops that reduce the need for water, Change consumption patterns to improve health and nutrition, Plants that have higher profitability to ensure a minimum income exceeding Rs50K a month, adding a third crop in certain instances, and using fallow land in the Colombo District for high value products for export, are but a few of the areas that require more input.

The benefits of commercial farming techniques, with use of new technology to meet export needs in niche markets was also elaborated upon by Mr Rizvhi Zaheed of Hayleys Agriculture with examples from their current practices.

It is clear that the scientists and the incredible expertise already existing within the Agricultural Department, along with emphasis of new and Best Agricultural Practices to encourage the numerous Agriculture Graduates to go into the field, rather than into non-related fields, and ensuring their influence in the Policy making framework is an essential ingredient to ensure a successful future for Agriculture to ensure Food Security in Sri Lanka.

A point NOT discussed was the need to strengthen land ownership and titles, so that more land can be released for cultivation, with the assurance that land will not be lost if rented to professional farmers, who can consolidate land into contiguous areas for efficient farming. Another area that had little discussion was the value or harnessing and storing water, to be used sparingly, to ensure minimal wastage, as well as the required use of fertilizer and pesticides to minimize leaching using drone technology to pin point specific areas of use, instead of the whole field.


Finally a gentlemen who had retired from the FAO, who was now over 80 gave a clear demonstration that our food intake was at fault, with ideas for improved nutrition and use of much less starch like rice in one’s diet, that over time could change the habits of the whole Country, to a healthier lifestyle, and use of much less inputs to achieve much more in terms of a wholesome nutritious diet in future!

Friday, January 27, 2017

National Trust Lecture (in Sinhala) – “Herbal Medicinal Plants”

by Dr MH Nimal Karunasiri @ HNB Towers 6.30pm on Thursday, 27th January 2017

In essence, what I got out of this lecture was the process of Sri Lankan (as opposed to Indian Ayurvedic Practice) native medicine, has a basis of 30,000+ concoctions, known as “BEHETH WATTORU” to treat a myriad of illnesses.

It the way they are prepared, using sourced items, that maybe dried, fresh, cut, sliced, pressed, heated, outer shell removed, all of which have a specific reason, in how they are then mixed to obtain the required consistency to be effective in curing the particular illness for which this was prepared!

So he said PLEASE don’t ask him the scientific reason for why it actually works the way it is supposed to. He will only commit to saying that it works with certainty. He cannot scientifically in the sense of 21st century Western Science, extract the active elements of that concoction, and state why their chemical makeup is effective in the treatment of that particular ailment.

Another MOST important point to come out of this is that the same medicine, will NOT work in the same way for each person. That is because we humans have our own chemical makeup and so what is good for your body, may not be good for mine. The skill of the native physician is to identify the body type and even the mental type of the patient to determine what is the likeliest mix of medicines that would work for that particular patient after questioning his lifestyle, and eating habits, and work and recreation and dietary habits, to come to their best estimate of what concoction will work in that particular case, and the patient’s ability to follow

This when contrasted with Western Medicine which will treat each ailment with a prescribed type of drug, and if it does not work prescribe another set, without specific reference to the patient’s own proclivities! So when one drug does not work another may be tried but none of them may work, as they have identified the symptoms and disease incorrectly, as relating to close proximity!

He quoted an example that a nasal drip may have nothing to do with sinuses, or virus, and reasons they are NOT cured, is because it maybe related to some deficiency of something in the stomach or liver! This is not anywhere near the nose that is dripping, but Western medicine will try and find a localized solution, and not go half way down the body to (in fact) find the specific reason, in this case treat a diseased liver. This is a real problem I am having, but without an effective cure, or even identifying the cause, I am more likely to believe his supposition.

When he said the World Bank had a project to spend US$40M in documenting and identifying, and recording and preserving planting material of these medicinal herbal plants, we did not have sufficient people interested in that goal, not conservation, creating a HERB BANK and knowledge gathering minded. Instead, all that happened was that the planting material was collected by interested parties and exported out of Sri Lanka for others to modify and propagate and most likely profit from their actions, to the detriment of Sri Lanka.

We in Sri Lanka are to blame for our total lack of vision, and concern of the real value of our own, and some endemic types of Herbal and Medicinal Plants, on which much has been written by experts, but little has been done to create public awareness on their uses, value, need for preservation and propagation, and most importantly in creating small business ideas, where these plants can be grown in home gardens using the pure planting material of the best varieties which can be sold to hopefully an increasingly interested public, who wish to grow their own herbal plants as food additives, for good health among others. We can continue to provide the source material for the 30,000 concoctions, to make these portions, and to permit the survival and expansion of our native traditions to benefit all.

It was interesting when the lecturer said that even though he entered Medical College, much to the disappointment of his parents, he decided to follow this Native Medicine field, as he felt it required a level of knowledge currently not given to or entered into by people who are at the top of the class.

This coincides with my strong belief that the best should learn agriculture, and only the SECOND BEST go into Medical College, as the knowledge required to be successful in Agriculture, far exceeds that of the knowledge needed in Medicine, as we are dealing with numerous plant species, their various varieties and cultivars, their growing habits, fruiting systems and harvesting and preserving the output to be in a state fit for the purchaser, be they consumers, or intermediaries, like Ayurvedic Physicians and the like.


In a similar vein the knowledge required of the specific types of plants, how they grow, where they grow, how they can be propagated, ALONG with the way they are mixed to form these portions, and finally how these portions are applied, usually externally to the patients in the form of PATTUS and the like and ingested in the form of KASAYAS whether heated to a certain temperature and the way they are applied to the body, along with the frequency, are all the Ayurvdic/ Native Physicians knowledge, where as in Western Medicine these ancillary areas are not as important, and best left to nurses, and technicians to carry out! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

At the fellowship following the Memorial Service for Dr Tony Don Michael @ St Mary's, Bambalapitiya

with Jith Peiris

with Dad and Tilak de Zoysa

With Minister Niroshan Perera whose father Festus and Tony were good friends

With the Parish Priest of St Mary's and Uncle Lalith and Dad of course!


with Nihal Abeysundera Tony's class mate and also all the way in Medical College and Sherine Fernando






Uncle Lalith and Aunty Selvie

Brother and Sister, Lalith and Nalini

Aunty Nalini and Uncle Nihal with Sharmini Don Michael

Nihal with Mano Chanmugam

Tony's class mates at St Peter's including Dr H I K Fernando the Ceylon Wicketkeeper in the 60s

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Workshop on the Conservation and Management of Wild Elephants

 – Hosted by the WNPS and funded by the Born Free Foundation @ SLF on 24th January 2017 - 9.30am to 5.30 pm

The main actors conducting the workshop were Dr Sumith Pilapitiya, who for a short time in 2016 was the DG WLC and Elephant specialist, and the Elephant expert Dr Prithiviraj Fernando, of the Center for Conservation Research.

At the conclusion of the workshop an appeal was made to try and impress upon the President as the Minister for the Environment and Mahaweli, to make sure that the water from the Moragahakanda Project does NOT result in a permanent situation where the Minneriya and Kawdulla Tanks are always at spill level, which will KILL both the US$1.25B value of the Gathering for Sri Lanka Tourism, that will outweigh any benefit farmers of Polonnaruwa District will get from having constant water to guarantee two paddy crops a year from the lands cultivated from these two tanks.

While Sumith used the word spill level, Prithiviraj countered it will be at Supply level, which is only a semantic difference in words, but amounts to the same in reality, that there will be NO grasslands in either of the Reservoirs for the 1,000 or so Elephants who use it for their fodder when the water level recedes in the Tanks.

The interpretation is on how the President sees it as a Politician from Polonnaruwa District, being concerned about a few million rupees in the pockets of a few farmers, when compared with a few thousand billion rupees in the hands of the Sri Lankan Populace from Tourism, and what he values more! The micro level or the holistic macro level expected of a TRUE STATESMEN.

This leads to the main topic of the day, which was how we are to spread the gospel to the people of Sri Lanka, that the value of the Elephant in SL cannot be measured. Their commitment NOT to harm the elephants take reasonable steps to avoid coming into conflict with them, is the real practical means of avoiding HEC (Human Elephant Conflict). It all goes to the conscience of the affected villager, on how he manages to minimize his or her personal animosity against the elephant that damages their lovingly grown crop in a manner of seconds, that leads them to take revenge against the same rogue elephant who comes nightly, by using Hakka Pattas or other traps that maim and kill. Immediate compensation can help here!

With 45% of the Country in Elephant and Human Habitat co-existence, the name of the game is how to manage harmony,  where both man and beast can live side by side, with mutual respect for each other, reducing the temptation of elephants to venture into human habitation to raid crops, by having effective barriers in the form of intelligently managed and maintained Electric Fencing, around areas of human habitation protecting humans, whilst at the same time permitting the maximum possible spaces for Elephants by giving them access to historic and traditional corridors, so they may move around unhindered, as the best way to make this objective work, and minimize the elephant need to encroach.

Further a fervent request that ALL development plans, before they are even attempted, to look at the minimal conflict areas for its construction, rather than using the conservation and environmental impact report as an afterthought, to wiggle around the problem, once the basics of construction have been agreed to.

The various practical issues were discussed, and the conclusion was that as far as fences go, they are the single most practical means to reduce HEC, and all other natural and biological means have been tested and found wanting. Additionally the actual method of fencing must take into account the terrain and practical difficulties and be adapted to particular elephant behavior to minimize the likelihood of elephants using their cunning to break and penetrate them.

Further current systems of Elephant drives were looked at and the conclusion was they don’t work, and even short term drives do NOT result in any change in behavior as they return to base, sometimes with an aggravated consequence.

Reducing the effect of Elephants getting caught to trains were discussed, and the consensus was to identify the few areas where the majority of the accidents take place, and have speed limits as the practical answer to that problem, that does NOT even necessitate DWC officers having to go on those night trains with the Drivers, if the Drivers, merely obey the Track Rules of speed!

Strict action to be taken under the law for those who use their own means of electrifying a fence, using the Grid to supply power, that invariably could kill elephant as well as human who gets caught. All other private means to be approved

A brief discussion of the conservation of the unique Tuskers of Kalawewa was also included, to provide them safe passage to Ritigala through a corridor that is currently cultivated, which results in severe harm to herds that attempt the crossing. 

In my opinion, this land should be purchased outright to expand this absolutely critical requirement to ensure the survival of the Tuskers. If NOT, they are bound to have a finite life of not more than 25 years left. Remember the total land extent is very limited here and the protected areas must be expanded.

I was very disappointed that there were NO senior officials from the Conservator of Forests, so that joint undertakings with the DWC could be seen to act on the conservation of Elephants who move in and out of their mutual jurisdictions seamlessly, but who are dealt with differently. So an appeal that they are put within the same Ministry, so that their objectives and work could support each other in managing the PROTECTED AREAS in the manner that the statute determines, with each authority helping each other to carry out their duties rather than compete.

In this instance the Range Forest Officers could often work with the Wildlife Department Officers in raids on poaching and encroaching in protected areas, to minimize the future incidences of this activity, increasing their effectiveness.

Further the participation of the other stakeholders who had been invited, and whose attendance had been confirmed, not turning up was a barrier to a successful workshop, where MORE stakeholder issues and goals could have been stirred into the same pot to come out with the needed JOINT DECLARATION to the Govt. to insist that certain changes be made in order that the Law can be obeyed and enforced with POLITICAL BLESSINGS rather than Politics and Political interference, being a barrier to its successful implementation.

The impressive show from the DWC with 6 senior officials including the DG himself, attending was heartening, but as Dr Sumith pointed out, their flexibility in putting pressure is limited as they are mere staffers whose employment could be at risk if they are seen by the politicians as interfering, and so it is the responsibility of the CIVIL society of the NGOs to put pressure on the Government to follow the statutes and enforce the existing laws fairly, so that conservation is carried out by the DWC and the current intense illwill caused by affected villagers blaming DWC officials for HEC, when in fact another civilian body, working with the local Govt. officials SHOULD intervene to sort the problems of the people, with discussion with DWC to minimize conflict.

In short the DWC can side with the animal, and the Grama Niladari side with the villager, and they mutually agree on a plan to sort out the particular problem and have a means to reconcile or compromise with an independent arbitration body, when disputes arise that cannot be resolved.


It was an excellent session and I was able to reconnect with Kumudini Hettiarachchi and meet Malaka Rodrigo, an Environmental Journalist, to try and find a means to communicate with the Sinhala Speaking audience, as that is the population that has the least access to the latest recommendations on behavior! However most of the publicity SHOULD be given to the affected areas to change their attitudes, if we are to succeed in our objectives.

CONCLUSION

The whole session was geared in such a way that we would have well defined objectives of a 5 point plan as it were to present to the Minister of Wildlife Conservation who had agreed to attend towards the end, so that we could impress on him how important ALL stakeholders unanimously agreed on a proposal for him to consider and approve.

ALAS ( as is very common amongst our leaders) he was a NO SHOW!

PS Parliament was engaged in a useless Bond Scandal Debate, an excuse to waste more time! IF there is a case they should prosecute, not waste Parliamentary time on a foolish debate of words that have NO force! Priorities Priorities, all COCK-EYED