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Wednesday, January 28, 2015


When blunders boomerang

 The law which made plastic crates compulsory for the transport of fruits and vegetables will be re-implemented from 15 January. When plastic crates were made mandatory last month, the farmers vehemently protested, turning the marketplace into an inferno and sending vegetable prices soaringg
By Upali Tennakoon
 The law which made plastic crates compulsory for the transport of fruits and vegetables will be re-implemented from 15 January. When plastic crates were made mandatory last month, the farmers vehemently protested, turning the marketplace into an inferno and sending vegetable prices soaring. The re-implementation of this law will certainly trigger more problems, for plastic crates are not the solution to the many problems faced by farmers in the country.  On the contrary, the government will only succeed in exacerbating their plight by smothering them with strict laws.
Plastic crates aside, there are more important problems in the country which need to be addressed immediately. The issue of stray dogs, for instance, can be termed as one. It was reported in media that there is a move to cull thee million stray dogs. Animal lovers, animal rights activists, and civil organizations have roundly castigated the Health Ministry for initiating the move. 
 According to the Health Ministry, 2,000 dog bites are reported every day and this has now become a serious health issue. As a solution, sterilization of dogs is taking place at an annual cost of Rs. 1,000 million. More than 45 people had died due to rabies last year and this number is expected to increase. Even at the weekly Cabinet meeting two weeks ago, this matter, reportedly, was raised but the ministers could not formulate a solid and sustainable solution. 
This problem is entirely different from the plastic crates issue, as this has a direct impact on the health of hundreds and thousands of people. If 2,000 people are victimized by dog bites on a daily basis, it is not so difficult to calculate the monthly and yearly statistics. This problem has already burdened the health sector to a large extent.
This problem has many indirect adverse impacts too. Several months ago, a Sinhala newspaper reported that stray dogs are rampant in tourist and cultural zones such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and that it has become a great problem, especially for foreign travellers who visit those areas. One might think this is a negligible issue; but, if too many foreign tourists are bitten by stray dogs, this can in the long run become very detrimental.
In the past there was a mechanism to provide licences for dogs. That can be termed as a better option to curtail the number of stray dogs, than simply killing them.  That mechanism does not exist anymore and it can be the reason for the unprecedented increase in the number of stray dogs.
How should we solve the problem?  No one can approve the move to cull stray dogs because it cannot be justified on any ground. Even though stray dogs are a menace to our day to day lives, they also have a right to live just like all the other creatures on earth.
In the US, the dog population is 78 million. But stray dogs cannot be seen on the streets. There is a robust mechanism to register domestic dogs and electronic chips are placed in their ears. Those electronic chips contain details of their owners and locations. This system was introduced to Sri Lanka too; but did not produce desired results. Needless to say that Sri Lanka cannot afford to implement the electronic chip system due to the cost factor.
But it is essential to find a sustainable solution to the stray dogs’ problem. Instead of re-implementing the plastic crates law, the government should take necessary measures to re-implement the licence system for dogs. If need be, the old licence system can be modified and re-implemented through the administrative bodies and health sector institutions.  And at the same time, a mechanism should be introduced to sterilize the stray dogs and curb the growth of their population in a responsible manner. It will free the country from the so called ‘rabies fear’ and on the other hand it will also reduce the massive amounts of money the Health Ministry has to spend on a yearly basis to prevent rabies.  
Undergrads compared to stray dogs
According to some ministers of the present government, university students are also like stray dogs. If my memory serves me right, once Minister S.B. Dissanayake said that university students who are overly excited about the ‘revolution’ should also be vaccinated.
One cannot deny the fact that the entire university sector is also in turmoil now, thanks to the policies of the present government.  The University of Sri Jayewardenepura has been closed down indefinitely and the medical faculty of the Rajarata University of Sri Lanka also faces the same destiny. The students of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura demand to remove the Vice Chancellor claiming he is a political stooge.
At the same time, there is a heated battle between university students and the government over the Private Universities Bill. In addition to the students, the university teachers are also up in arms against the government. Their major demand is a substantial salary hike for university teachers, which ensures the dignity of their profession. They have also criticized the new Bill pertaining to private universities and have threatened that they will resort to trade union action if the Bill is presented to Parliament.
But the government does not have a plan to address the problems faced by university students. Instead of solving their problems, the government is now attempting to repress their protest campaigns and this has aggravated the university crises. Higher Education Minister, S.B. Dissanayaka recently made a startling remark that a group of university students backed by the JVP rebel group are planning to launch an armed struggle.
A/L results fiasco

The manner in which the government handled the A/L results fiasco has also intensified the tension between the students and the government.
The students vociferously demand that the Education Minister should resign from his position. But the Minister mockingly says that there is no reason for him to resign.   This is not a problem pertaining to his resignation. But it is quite apparent that the Education Minister does not take this deadly blunder seriously.  May be he is of the view that the people might forget that problem after two or three weeks. But that is, I must say, a fatal miscalculation, for it will certainly be something for the Education Minister and the relevant authorities to regret when such blunders boomerang on the government. 
Meryvin, another embarrassment
Minister Mervyn Silva’s issue also surfaced in the wake of the A/L results fiasco. That also embarrassed the government to a great extent and the top echelons of the government became speechless when the Kelaniya PS members revealed the corruption charges levelled against him. Those Kelaniya PS members, who are now at loggerheads with Minister Silva, were considered as his close associates a few months ago.  But now they have locked horns causing a conundrum to the government.
These kinds of problems cannot be solved by repression and intimidation. The more you try to suppress dissenting voices by force, the more powerful will they become. The slain Libyan Leader Gaddafi kept immense faith in intimidation and suppression. And finally he embraced a tragic death inside a ditch near the capital city of Libya.
We can see isolated uprisings all over the country. If the government does not address the root causes of these uprisings, they will intensify and coalesce. Then protesters will not demand a solution for their problems; but will call for a regime change. That is completely the fault on the part of the government. The best example is there in the ‘Arab Spring’.  
When power is in your hand, you might believe that the entire world revolves around you. It is a serious misconception. That highhandedness will generate far reaching consequences. Therefore, the leaders of the country should realize that the turmoil which has arisen in the university sector and in the ruling coalition is a wakeup call for the   government. If the top echelons of the government disregard this message, they will not have a second chance to rectify their faults. 
 The re-implementation of this law will certainly trigger more problems, for plastic crates are not the solution to the many problems faced by farmers in the country.  On the contrary, the government will only succeed in exacerbating their plight by smothering them with strict laws.
Plastic crates aside, there are more important problems in the country which need to be addressed immediately. The issue of stray dogs, for instance, can be termed as one. It was reported in media that there is a move to cull thee million stray dogs. Animal lovers, animal rights activists, and civil organizations have roundly castigated the Health Ministry for initiating the move. 
 According to the Health Ministry, 2,000 dog bites are reported every day and this has now become a serious health issue. As a solution, sterilization of dogs is taking place at an annual cost of Rs. 1,000 million. More than 45 people had died due to rabies last year and this number is expected to increase. Even at the weekly Cabinet meeting two weeks ago, this matter, reportedly, was raised but the ministers could not formulate a solid and sustainable solution. 
This problem is entirely different from the plastic crates issue, as this has a direct impact on the health of hundreds and thousands of people. If 2,000 people are victimized by dog bites on a daily basis, it is not so difficult to calculate the monthly and yearly statistics. This problem has already burdened the health sector to a large extent.
This problem has many indirect adverse impacts too. Several months ago, a Sinhala newspaper reported that stray dogs are rampant in tourist and cultural zones such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and that it has become a great problem, especially for foreign travellers who visit those areas. One might think this is a negligible issue; but, if too many foreign tourists are bitten by stray dogs, this can in the long run become very detrimental.
In the past there was a mechanism to provide licences for dogs. That can be termed as a better option to curtail the number of stray dogs, than simply killing them.  That mechanism does not exist anymore and it can be the reason for the unprecedented increase in the number of stray dogs.
How should we solve the problem?  No one can approve the move to cull stray dogs because it cannot be justified on any ground. Even though stray dogs are a menace to our day to day lives, they also have a right to live just like all the other creatures on earth.
In the US, the dog population is 78 million. But stray dogs cannot be seen on the streets. There is a robust mechanism to register domestic dogs and electronic chips are placed in their ears. Those electronic chips contain details of their owners and locations. This system was introduced to Sri Lanka too; but did not produce desired results. Needless to say that Sri Lanka cannot afford to implement the electronic chip system due to the cost factor.
But it is essential to find a sustainable solution to the stray dogs’ problem. Instead of re-implementing the plastic crates law, the government should take necessary measures to re-implement the licence system for dogs. If need be, the old licence system can be modified and re-implemented through the administrative bodies and health sector institutions.  And at the same time, a mechanism should be introduced to sterilize the stray dogs and curb the growth of their population in a responsible manner. It will free the country from the so called ‘rabies fear’ and on the other hand it will also reduce the massive amounts of money the Health Ministry has to spend on a yearly basis to prevent rabies.  
Undergrads compared to stray dogs
According to some ministers of the present government, university students are also like stray dogs. If my memory serves me right, once Minister S.B. Dissanayake said that university students who are overly excited about the ‘revolution’ should also be vaccinated.
One cannot deny the fact that the entire university sector is also in turmoil now, thanks to the policies of the present government.  The University of Sri Jayewardenepura has been closed down indefinitely and the medical faculty of the Rajarata University of Sri Lanka also faces the same destiny. The students of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura demand to remove the Vice Chancellor claiming he is a political stooge.
At the same time, there is a heated battle between university students and the government over the Private Universities Bill. In addition to the students, the university teachers are also up in arms against the government. Their major demand is a substantial salary hike for university teachers, which ensures the dignity of their profession. They have also criticized the new Bill pertaining to private universities and have threatened that they will resort to trade union action if the Bill is presented to Parliament.
But the government does not have a plan to address the problems faced by university students. Instead of solving their problems, the government is now attempting to repress their protest campaigns and this has aggravated the university crises. Higher Education Minister, S.B. Dissanayaka recently made a startling remark that a group of university students backed by the JVP rebel group are planning to launch an armed struggle.
A/L results fiasco

The manner in which the government handled the A/L results fiasco has also intensified the tension between the students and the government.
The students vociferously demand that the Education Minister should resign from his position. But the Minister mockingly says that there is no reason for him to resign.   This is not a problem pertaining to his resignation. But it is quite apparent that the Education Minister does not take this deadly blunder seriously.  May be he is of the view that the people might forget that problem after two or three weeks. But that is, I must say, a fatal miscalculation, for it will certainly be something for the Education Minister and the relevant authorities to regret when such blunders boomerang on the government. 
Meryvin, another embarrassment
Minister Mervyn Silva’s issue also surfaced in the wake of the A/L results fiasco. That also embarrassed the government to a great extent and the top echelons of the government became speechless when the Kelaniya PS members revealed the corruption charges levelled against him. Those Kelaniya PS members, who are now at loggerheads with Minister Silva, were considered as his close associates a few months ago.  But now they have locked horns causing a conundrum to the government.
These kinds of problems cannot be solved by repression and intimidation. The more you try to suppress dissenting voices by force, the more powerful will they become. The slain Libyan Leader Gaddafi kept immense faith in intimidation and suppression. And finally he embraced a tragic death inside a ditch near the capital city of Libya.
We can see isolated uprisings all over the country. If the government does not address the root causes of these uprisings, they will intensify and coalesce. Then protesters will not demand a solution for their problems; but will call for a regime change. That is completely the fault on the part of the government. The best example is there in the ‘Arab Spring’.  
When power is in your hand, you might believe that the entire world revolves around you. It is a serious misconception. That highhandedness will generate far reaching consequences. Therefore, the leaders of the country should realize that the turmoil which has arisen in the university sector and in the ruling coalition is a wakeup call for the   government. If the top echelons of the government disregard this message, they will not have a second chance to rectify their faults. 


Higher education is about policy, not politics

 “The most daunting challenge for undergraduates can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middleclass families thousands of dollars.
By Upali Tennakoon
 “The most daunting challenge for undergraduates can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middleclass families thousands of dollars. And give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.
Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down. Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who have done just that. Some schools redesign courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is it’s possible. So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education cannot be a luxury – it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Skyrocketing costs
This is what US President, Barack Obama said on the issue of skyrocketing higher education costs, recently. America is a country where educational fees are extremely high. That is why he said education should not be a luxury and that it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford. In the speech, he has stressed the need for absorbing more students to the educational institutes that provide higher and tertiary education.
When I came across this speech, I was compelled to think about the present situation of Sri Lanka’s higher education, which is now in turmoil due to many reasons. Even though the leaders of the country often make big noises about ‘development’ and ‘miracles’ the higher education is crippled and moribund.
What is the reason for that? This is of course an important question. If the government is keen to develop roads and construct high-rises, why does the same government turn a blind eye to the problems that cripple the education system? In my view, successive governments which ruled the country during the past two decades used and abused the education system and that annoyed students to a large extent. Under the present government, that situation has exacerbated causing disappointment and dissatisfaction among university students.
Needless to say education plays a pivotal role in the development of a country. It is much more important than constructing highways and fancy overhead bridges. It is a long term investment and may not provide the immediate results to be used to entertain the ‘gallery.
Sadly, in Sri Lanka, the outcome of this ‘long term’ investment is unbelievably tragic. The current chaotic situation in the education sector will definitely result in far reaching consequences that could have severe adverse impacts on the country’s future. 
Even though the undergraduate education in State Universities is free, the educational opportunities, unfortunately, are extremely limited. Admission to the university system is based on the highly competitive GCE Advanced Level examination, a stumbling block for most students. Even among those who get through, only an extremely limited number gain entry to universities.  Most often children from remote areas are deprived of their educational rights one way or the other. This is the reality, which most of our political leaders find a bit too hard to digest.

Looking for alternatives
As a result of this lopsided education system, many students are compelled to find other means of acquiring higher education. Some go abroad to pursue their higher studies in foreign universities.  This is obviously a costly exercise. Others enrol themselves at the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) or at state-owned autonomous degree awarding institutes or study as external students of state-run universities or perhaps at private higher educational institutes, which conduct classes and exams in Sri Lanka on behalf of foreign universities. But a large percentage of students give up hopes of higher education and search for alternative measures.
Our political leaders loudly boast that the level of education in Sri Lanka is far better than that of India, which has already emerged as an economic superpower not only in Asia, but also in the world.
It is true that the education system in India currently represents a great paradox. On the one hand India has universities and educational institutes that rank among the best in the world and on the other hand there are a considerable number of schools in the country which do not even have the basic infrastructure. Having said that, it has got to be acknowledged, Indian professionals are considered among the best in the world and are in great demand. This indicates the inherent strength of the Indian education system. Can we say the same about Sri Lanka?
In China, the education system is streamlined and it is one of their biggest strengths. By the end of 2004, China had 2,236 schools for higher learning, with over 20 million students; the gross rate of enrolment in schools of higher learning reached 19 per cent, which is much better than that of Sri Lanka. Postgraduate education is the fastest growing sector in China, with 24.1 per cent more students and 25.9 per cent more researchers than the year before.
But in Sri Lanka, the situation is worsening day by day and the government is nowhere near to coming up a solution. The crisis of the education system starts from Grade 1 admissions. More than 1,500 schools are on the verge of closure due to shortage of students. Many schools do not have even the basic facilities to carry out day-to-day operations. Adding to the misery, AL results were also bungled by the education authorities this year. Students have lost confidence in the Examinations Department and the Commissioner’s conduct was severely criticized. The Professor, who is considered as the architect of the Z-Score system has also received death threats.
The university sector is completely crippled. While the authorities and students are pointing fingers at each other, the entire university education has gone astray. There are more than 40,000 unemployed graduates whose future is still a question mark.  

Lack of basic infrastructure
Even though the government has established new universities, they do not have basic infrastructure to carry out academic activities. When the infrastructural problems affect the academic activities, students start protesting against the university authorities. When students protest, the authorities cannot maintain discipline in universities and this becomes a vicious cycle. If the country wants to get rid of this vicious cycle, we need to identify the root cause to this.
The problems in the higher education sector are not irredeemable. Most of the problems currently crippling the education sector can be rectified through proper administrative measures. Politics, which is now a major hindrance to the education sector, should stay out of the administrative process.
The government has a pivotal role to play in this process. While keeping its hands out of the administrative process, it should facilitate and strengthen the education sector. The government should realize that the money it spends on education is a long term investment which should be done wisely and prudently.

All we need is freedom

When a new newspaper comes out to the market, it creates the platform to discuss many new topics. The world is a configuration which is continuously changing.
by Upali Tennakoon
When a new newspaper comes out to the market, it creates the platform to discuss many new topics. The world is a configuration which is continuously changing. Therefore, every day we come across new topics and new terms. We get exposed to new realities and circumstances. In a context such as this, Sri Lanka also has to change. But what is the change we should have? Are we travelling towards the right direction? These are the question we should ask from ourselves.
As Sri Lankans who are living abroad, we feel sorry about the destiny of our country. Most of us have a bleak picture about the future of our motherland. Wittingly or otherwise, our political leaders are taking our country and its people towards an inescapable socio-economic chasm.  This is not something which occurred overnight. It is the culmination of a gradual and long term process for which the successive leaders who governed the country should be held responsible.
When the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike came up with the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy in 1956, many defined it as the beginning of a new revolution. Some believed the ‘Sinhala Only’ policy alone would be the ‘messiah’ of our nation. However, as a result of that policy, the education system of the country was totally crippled. It created a new generation who were ‘harnessed’ with outdated syllabi and knowledge.  The rotten education system did not allow them to generate new ideas and creations; it made them ignorant of the world beyond the Indian Ocean. As a result, they were cornered and isolated from the world.
Our political leaders then kept chanting about “strengthening Sinhala businessmen”.  At the same time, they kept cursing foreign businesses and foreign businessmen. But through their policies, they weakened Sinhala businessmen gradually and kept facilitating multi-national and foreign entrepreneurs. This contradicted the claims they often chanted. Today, only the ‘Motor spare parts business’ in Sri Lanka lies in the hands of so called Sinhalese businessmen.
The UPFA government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa appears to be made of Sinhala nationalistic elements. But through the Expropriation Bill presented by the same government, some of the prominent Sinhala businessmen in the country are being victimized.
On the other hand, it discourages foreign investors too. This particular Bill was brought forward by the government, in an environment where state sector institutions incur heavy losses as the result of inefficient management. Before presenting this Bill, the government should have turned those loss making institutions into profitable ones. In views of this, the Expropriation Bill appears to be a cynical and duplicitous one.
Amidst the arguments on the Expropriation Bill, the government took another controversial decision to impose a ban on web sites. During the recent times, news web sites gained immense popularity since the public has lost faith in mainstream newspapers and electronic media. Sri Lankans who live abroad heavily rely on news web sites. With this new decision, Sri Lankans who live in the country were deprived of gaining access to uncensored information on latest occurrences. Sri Lankans who live abroad, on the other hand, have no obstacles.
When the ban was imposed, the international community threw harsh criticisms at the government. Besides, those who were not aware of such web sites started searching for them. The ban, on the other hand, is unrealistic because all the banned websites can be accessed through proxies. If they really wanted to gag what they term as ‘slanderous’ websites, this is a foolish way of doing it.
In addition to that, we can point out so many loopholes in the law enforcing mechanism in Sri Lanka. The most recent example is the manner in which the government coped with Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra’s killing. The government and the law enforcing bodies took an incredibly long time to issue a warrant against Duminda Silva. Ironically, the warrant was issued after he left the country.
The restriction on dual citizenship holders was another blunder made by the government which had no apparent outcome.  As a result of this, many Sri Lankans who live abroad were disappointed about the government and at the end of the day, the government ended up imposing a useless law which doesn’t serve its purpose.
When we observe from outside, we can find many discrepancies and loopholes of the law enforcing system which create severe adverse impacts upon the government in the long run. The so called miraculous development programmes cannot be seen in these laws. On the contrary, duplicity, double standards, maliciousness and hypocrisy are clearly visible.
That’s why our country needs a new beginning. That’s why we need to think about a society which is free from draconian laws and suppressive regulations. All what we need is freedom. And that freedom should be reflected on the society and its people. Only then will we be able to create a ‘new Sri Lanka’ that will pave the way for a progressive future.