Thursday, April 30, 2009

Price of cooking gas cylinders go up with effect from midnight- Smaks of post election smirking

The price of a Shell Gas cylinder goes up from Rs 1309 to Rs 1500 or 12.7% effective midnight tonight. Other brands will also go up. So announced the Minister of Consumer Affairs. Just think! Kalapanakaranna! I smiled rather a smirky one at that when the news flashed accross to me just minutes after the announcement that inflation had dropped to a historic low of 2.9%.

The Western Provincial Council elections just concluded; knowing that 80% of gas cylinder sales are to the Western Province customers who if they knew of this in advance would have been a little less euphoric in their choice of support. They have little acess to firewood, the overwhelming method of fuel for cooking in the rest of the Island and would no doubt be smarting after earlier being gleeful of the equivalent reduction not too long ago of about the same amount.

Readers, those of you in Sri Lanka are most likely to be in the Western Province, and few would know of the Gas price as it may not be under your purview but surely the irony is not lost on you!I am sure there are legitimate reasons for this increase, possibly the government decided to sock it to you as a tax as you are the most able to afford to take the hit, and will take it lying down. No demonstrations on the streets, as God forbid a demonstration would be perceived as not an expression of free will and anger, but pandering to the enemy!

Kalpanakaranna, these are but mere gestures or indications that we dont matter, the government is in total control of our lives, and Ministers take pleasure in directly interfering in our lives, either by increasing or decreasing prices by decree, thereby making friends with the constituency or making enemies of the constituency.

We just get manipulated and seem to be a most complacent country being lead like lambs to slaughter due to our inability to express dissent and exercise our freedom at the games people play on us. We must take the exercising of our franchise more seriously and the lower turnout at the recent polls as an indication of lack of faith in our vote being of any value.

I am just expressing a feeling and I am sure you readers will have your own take on this, so please have your say. I usually live out of the western province and use a mati dara lipa for cooking and maybe I as I have access to firewood, use it even in my place in the Western Province, where I use a gas cylinder every four months, an indication of the frequency of living, cooking and time there.

Out of interest the hopper prices did not go down when the reduction of the gas cylinder took place a few months ago, will it now go up citing the increase in the price of gas? Let me know if any of you have to pay a rupee more for your appa as a result.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It not too late to regain the “Moral High Ground” which has been lost

The recent events have clearly shown by way of example, how many angles the current crisis, have given rise to. We have the government by way of the disinformation provided by both the defense ministry and the MCNS giving a picture that is inaccurate both to protect the country from panic, and also to boost the morale of the forces and ensure electoral success. We then have another extreme of LTTE disinformation, emanating from the Diaspora, so as to gain sympathy that has caught the attention of overseas governments, the UN and overseas news outlets.

I have tried to sift through all this and come up with my own analysis. What we have to remember is that news is both what we are told and not told. It is very disingenuous of western governments to call the SL govt. to task, without showing the detailed satellite imagery that is clearly available and lately disseminated by foreign media showing clearly where the bombs are falling, who is at the receiving end of them and how people are getting killed and injured. While that is not in doubt, due to our inability and the army’s inability to pin point civilian and LTTE as both are now in civilian clothes, this adds another dimension of confusion.

I must admit that I was, and it seems the SL government was also, completely inaccurate about the number of civilians in the No Fire Zone, as well as before that, being herded by the LTTE in their retreat. We both grossly underestimated the numbers and are now paying the price of international disbelief of the latest numbers. The defense ministry says 15-20K and the UN says 50-100K and the lower figure is not believed due to the earlier error of judgment of the government.

Now the latest sorry state are the pronouncements of ceasing combat operations, which also sadly smacks of another belly flop of the defense ministry, because they have hitherto maintained they are not using heavy artillery or aerial bombing in the no fire zone, as surely they should not have. Now they are saying combat operations have ceased. Surely what are they talking about? All this time combat operations should have ceased for over 10days. Their definition of combat operations is non-use of heavy weapons and aerial bombardment. They have got themselves caught in a trap, liable to international prosecution, by effectively admitting that up to now both heavy weapons and aerial bombardment was used in the safe zone.

Sadly I have maintained for a while that the media management of the war has been grossly mishandled by the government, and the superb and efficient operation of the security forces has thus been belittled by this mismanagement, as the international media amassed now are picking it all apart and the government spokesman, all the way up to the top man himself, look like utter buffoons and they still don’t realize it.

It is quite OK to keep all media out of the war zone in my view, as they just get in the way of the objective at hand which is to clear all LTTE out, by capturing or killing and not allowing even one to get away, as we just cannot face another revival from elements who escape to India or third country.

The collateral damage issue is now coming out with refugees correctly reporting what they had seen. Sadly due to the incompetence of the state media management the forces now appear internationally to be barbaric, firing at will killing anyone who was in harms way. The government is continuing to pursue their policy of infiltration to clear the last pockets of LTTE whilst at the same time rescuing the civilians, and have denied access to the UN into the remaining NFZ of 5 sq km as they must believe they will clear it within 24hours because the remaining people with no food and water will starve if they take any longer.

I hope for the innocent civilians sake they can do it with minimum casualties and without delay as they are putting the country’s reputation at risk. Three foreign ministers arrive on Wednesday, and we are no fools, there will be one set of news for local consumption, and another set for international consumption, and all depends on having it all wrapped up by then. The Sri Lankan people’s integrity is what is at stake as the government with a mandate from the people have a responsibility to protect them from pariah status by acting responsibly, as all actions to the contrary will come to light with the media spotlight on the Island as never before, especially in critical light.

Hey you big Whigs, you are servants of the state, act with responsibility, as this is the last battle I hope the army will ever have to fight on this land and how they perform will “forever” determine how the so called Sinhala government acted towards a minority, while cornered, and one innocent life lost at this stage is one too many, as it will be portrayed internationally as a manifold increase, forever tainting your tenure in world history, and permanently scarring our country’s image due to your incompetence

Monday, April 27, 2009

zero civilian casualty policy (ZCC)

I must confess it is the first time I have heard of this policy, as announced by the inaptly named MCNS or Media Center for National Security. I guess to a lowly peasant farmer like me, this is not surprising, but to those wired and in the know when every non event hits the screens, I ask you is this part of your vocabulary?

I would really like to know what this means, as just like the misnamed MCNS is this also a misnamed word to mean we accept a one and a few zeros in the word zero! If I were to accept the word at face value, then what have we been seeing so far? When was this policy enacted, and what are the known civilian casualties since this policy was announced? Who else knows about this policy? Have the forces been informed of this? or is it merely a bit of misinformation to fool a few foreigners, some VIPs at that, who are interfering in our internal affairs?

On a more serious note, it is imperative that all steps are taken now to minimize civilian death and injury, as they are all citizens of this land. I know it is easier said than done, when the Tigers have now shed their uniforms and are in the midst of the civilians, and are pretending to be civilians. So it is a question of finding the needle in the haystack, and to do this, utmost care has to be taken to show the way for civilians to escape unharmed, and then perform the necessary steps to ensure that the wolves in sheep's clothing are identified and isolated from the rest.

I pray that making such utterances are not merely words but deeds that are followed up if broken, as otherwise any victory is hollow, and history will judge one harshly, no matter what short term benefit is derived. Remember we are just acting our part for a short period, and others will evaluate our deeds much more harshly with hindsight. All our actions must be justifiable, and in the end we have to be answerable to our conscience and our maker.

Man only judges other men from evidence at their disposal that may not elicit all the facts, therefore it is best if we behave with a sense of morality and not short term gain bearing in mind the responsibility placed on us, and not merely refer to those who give orders from higher up."sorry sir, I was given an order and I followed it to the letter, so I killed everyone in sight as it seemed that all pointed guns at me and I shot them all in self defence!"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Exhaustion of a Nation is hopefully over- cries for a new Direction

You only have to have lived in Sri Lanka since the JVP uprising in April 1971, to realize that this country has been through the mill in both Sinhala and Tamil fanaticism. This untold misery is seemingly coming to an end and I can only hope we in Sri Lanka can learn from these lessons, clean up our act and prevent the circumstances that gave rise to this in the future.

In dealing with terror, all governments of the day have resorted to draconian emergency laws, denying the fundamental rights to its citizens. I can only hope that they have the foresight to realize that all these measure should be speedily removed so that we don’t have to resort to subterfuge to express our distaste at the way we are governed.

I have also seen the quality of the people in all elected office drop in this same period from people with morals and a sense of duty to those merely of opportunistic thugs on all parties who would resort to any means to gain and keep power, not realizing that they are all servants of the people and not their masters. In order that we revert back to our previous persona, we must therefore clean up politics, and as there is no likelihood of breaking the two party stranglehold on power, and there is no realistic chance of changing the guard and therefore moral fabric of the party in power, it is completely up to the opposition to re-invent themselves in the interests of the country.

I call upon all the contenders for the leadership of the opposition to bow down gracefully from their aspirations, as it has proved that they are in no position to usurp the position of the current leader who despite his considerable flaws is in place due to the lack of a credible successor. I call upon them to attract a person of impeccable moral character and the necessary star power, along with the basic qualities of leadership to be chosen from amongst the people and not the party. I am in short calling for an “Obama moment!!” While it may sound impossible it is the only credible alternative to the present state of government.

The present administration save for the act of winning the ground war for territory has lost every other war it has fought and therefore will not be able to win the “Peace which we so deserve” So the heir in waiting is the person to take us to normalcy and prosperity with a sense of genuine commitment and zero personal gain. Am I just dreaming the impossible? Well Obama did happen and it is not a dream! Ruwan Wijewardene now is your chance!!!!

Foreign Journalists where have you been all this time

Once again we have been reminded in Sri Lanka of the world of sound bites. The sudden intensity with which the world media have closed in on the last stages of the LTTE is an indication of the short-lived nature of much of journalism, which is in a business to sell or draw an audience in the case of TV. Their intentions therefore are more about sensationalism as opposed to genuine concern for the news they are reporting.

I have read countless articles in the international press via my internet connection and I have responded with comments, highly critical of the stance taken and the obvious missteps they keep making with no apologies for their lack of judgment or errors. However surprise surprise none of that got published, in preference to hardly intelligible comments that get published, possibly reflecting that poor journalism would be caught by my comments and not those they prefer to publish.

Added to all this, the international community who should have been more supportive of Sri Lanka in its three decade long struggle against terror, are even at this late stage not comprehending the importance of an end to the conflict over protecting the turf of their surrogate such at the ICRC or Medicine sans Frontiers or WFP, HRW you get the drift.. Requests to delay the inevitable or God forbid go for another ceasefire being called for from countries, which would act no different if faced by the same circumstances, seem almost laughable if it was not serious.

Today the LTTE along with 10,000 civilians are holed up in about 6 sq km of a country of 65,000 sq km. It is tantamount to a hostage taking by a band of bandits, that has to be dealt with in the same manner, and not as group representing the legitimate aspirations of a people. International calls for them to surrender should be directed at the Diaspora who are still not willing to accept the reality, and by their actions are oblivious to the humanitarian issue, and instead are trying to protect the rights of criminals.

The battle is over bar the last gasp and international energies should be focused in helping the authorities handle the humanitarian issue of transporting feeding and clothing 150,000 people and ensuring they have basic rights and assist as quickly as possible to get them settled in areas of their choice with minimum disturbance by speeding the infrastructure, but that then is not newsworthy is it and no journalist would wish to cover that!!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The confusion of electoral politics in Sri Lanka

In a sense Sri Lanka is both a highly politicized country and in the same vein those in power completely disregard politics and act extremely dictatorially. The voters are completely snookered by the type of politics in place, which bears no relation to the actual election that is taking place.

For example in the current series of Provincial Council Elections, there is no mention at all by any of the candidates or even the parties these candidates belong to about issues that can be realistically dealt with at the provincial council level. For example education at the non-national level, and certain demarcated roads are the responsibility of the Provincial Council. Ask the voter or the candidate which roads these may be and how they are planning to improve the condition and both sides will have no clue.

This election is therefore a mandate for the party in Government, a pseudo referendum, making a mockery of the provincial councils themselves. Just additional tiers of government to put the henchmen of the party in power at the national level as ministers with authority to satisfy individual lust for power, when only 225 members can be in Parliament at any one time. This ignores the fringe benefits of duty free vehicles for provincial councilors, and other abuse of power they indulge in using there positions to sidestep the bureaucrats and rape the forests of wood or rivers of sand or extract government land for themselves as the case maybe.

The sad fact in Sri Lanka is that nothing useful can be done unless one is in a position of power, being elected, but those who are elected get elected by hoodwinking the electorate without doing anything useful, which frustrates those trying to get into elected office with altruistic motivations.

We have sunk into a country of personalities, nepotism attachments and not issues. Putting it simply, we want to be elected because we are pious and good with a string of social service, and been a member of a party from birth, not because we have an agenda to complete a list of tasks set before the electorate, along with a plan on how to achieve this.

In the forgoing I therefore question if this is democracy and are we truly democratic? If the electorate have come to accept a definition that is wholly undemocratic under this word, thereby bastardizing the term and getting away with it, how does one get back to square one?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bloggers! How about real news, assuming you are not in a Test Tube

The SL blogging community is growing by the day and there are some very useful blogs for different purposes. One I wish to see is some forum to disseminate real news from the horses mouth as it were, assuming some of you horses are in the thick of the news, as some pretend to be.

Even in today’s Daily News, it was mentioned that additional buses had been laid out for people to get to their homes and that there had been no complaints. Of course the reporters of this esteemed paper are in some office removed from reality not knowing what to say or are just told what to write.

I was marooned in Minneriya for days, as the family who take care of the place went to the wife’s village in Hataraliyadda, nr Kandy for Avurudhu. They were unable to get a bus back to Hingurakgoda from Kandy for days. Who do they make a complaint to that the services are unavailable? No one takes the blame they just pass the buck along to someone else.

Most of the people in Sri Lanka, call a village their home, and if it is just once a year it is to their home village that the great migration is for Avurudhu. Remember that they first have to get a bus from the village to the nearest main town from where they take the long distance train or bus. If the local bus, which invariably does not operate, and they are unwilling to hire a three-wheeler that may cost a week’s wage to get them to the main town, they are marooned. Another obvious lack of “Kalpanakaranna” as the transport from the village is just as important as the intercity. Once our family returned, they said how crowded the buses were, mainly because there were so few available, and not because the crowds were more than usual as people do stagger their return with some only returning on the 19th to leave for work at the auspicious time on 20th morning.

I am using an anecdote to make a statement of disinformation spread in the media that makes it a mockery, and I would rather read a few blogs with actual news rather than reams of SL papers devoted to aspiring journalists writing gobbledygook and completely befuddling us, not realizing that they are just prostituting their profession. Journalists have a responsibility and they cannot hide behind the lack of press freedom as an excuse for their incompetence. I would like some journalists to counter my argument please.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Milk vs Yogurt? why you should choose Milk

I just penned in an entry below on Sri Lanka's craze as a yogurt eating nation and the possible misconceptions arising therefrom, and then I realized that there is a serious educational flaw amongst the public about the importance of fresh milk over any other milk product, processed or not.

I have milk cows and from the beginning of this venture I have steadily lost money, not being able to make the venture work. If I sell to the Milk board in the name of Nestle, Highland, Kotmale, Anchor or other collecting company, I would receive between 22 and 30 rupees per litre having delivered it to the collecting center. It is therefore a no brainer when I go out an hour after milking, to try and sell milk to my neighbours at Rs60 a bottle(75% of a liter).Considering the fact that UHT milk in cartons under the name of Ambewela Milk sells at Rs125 per litre in the shops, this is an excellent value alternative. Boil it at that time and give a child a glass of milk before sending them off to school at that early hour of the morning.

Milk is the most nutritious drink, especially for a young person who needs Calcium and Protein in easily absorb able forms for their growth. However these parents said today that as it rained last evening, that they should not drink milk! "seethala" or some excuse. The same excuse is used for king coconut and for orange.

These parents don't have any hesitation in giving a 25 rupee yogurt cup giving less than a tenth of the nutritional value of the bottle of milk. Yes yogurt is more easily digestible as the lactose in milk turns into a more digestible lactic acid in the yogurt, but a child fed on milk will not usually suffer from lactose intolerance at the early stages where milk drinking is important.

I digress a bit but please read the labels on the ice creams, as most are sold only with vegetable fat and not milk fat, reducing its nutritional value further.

I am therefore at a loss to sit and explain all these attitudes parents have, which I now believe is due to miscommunication in the TV ads, where there is no countering by a milk lobby that is essential to publicise the virtues of milk. Failing which our educational system must try and fill the void extolling the virtues of fresh milk to every small child, and so they will at least know that fresh milk is preferable to any other nutritional intake they have become accustomed to.

Remember milk is a whole meal in itself with almost all the nutrients save for a few vitamins and a couple of minerals. Parents just review how much you spend on your child's food and see if they can have a more nutritional diet with fresh milk for a lower cost. Why is it that some of my customers give the fresh milk to feed their dogs and give their children powdered milk, which has now been shown to have extracted the animal fat and replaced it with vegetable fat? questioning whether you can actually call it MILK!!!

We need a few investigative journalists- read on please

I just read in yesterdays news online from SL newspapers about Fonterra (anchor brand) opening of an expansion of their yogurt making facility in Biyagama. This will increase production by 4million yogurt cups a month to over 10 million a month as Sri Lanka's yogurt market is rising at over a 20% annual rate accounting for over 30% of the total fresh milk product consumption. The plant expansion cost Rs1.2B

If I read this rightly, and you wizards at Fonterra correct me if I am wrong, the 5 year payback on this investment at today's borrowing rates in SL means that 500M a year needs to be allocated to the providers of capital over the 5 year period.

So on full production which is unlikely, this amounts to an extra 50 million cups a year of which Rs10 per cup goes to the capital providers. On a Rs 25 cup of yogurt, when it leaves the factory Rs20 goes to Fonterra, half goes for the investment. I wonder how much will go to the milk farmer for milk.My guess is not more than ONE RUPEE on the basis of paying the farmer about Rs 25 ltr for milk.

While this is touted as a great boost to dairy farmers, it is a greater boost to the investors, namely Fonterra (new zealand dairy farmers) and the funding banks. Are they overseas banks or SL banks?

Remember surplus(unsellable) milk in NZ is made into milk powder and sold to us in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is Fonterra's largest investment outside of China and so they are not doing it for any love of Sri Lanka, just for their benefit, and hopefully some crumbs may fall to us.

I as a dairy farmer is pleading for a decent price for my milk. I lose money as I sell milk to the board at less than Rs25 a litre while a bottle of water of the same size is Rs40.

Someone out there take up the story and lay bare the facts please. Mawbima are trying a different angle of poisonous milk powder and are being stopped by the courts. We just need some facts.