Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Sri Lanka

Resurgence

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on November 4 2020

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/resurgence

Schadenfreude

For a long time, I have been complaining that the west has been paying little attention to the relative success of Sri Lanka in dealing with the pandemic. I made this point again on a comment thread on YouTube reacting to a GOSL video explaining what actions the government had taken. Most of the comments on the thread were broadly supportive of the video, of the government and of my comment. There was one glaring exception; someone calling himself ‘poorpoor’ who violently abused Sri Lanka, saying that the deaths must be higher and being covered up. Nobody agreed with him and his comments seem to have disappeared. A new pseudonymous troll, who seems an awful lot like those malignant entities who swarm all over the comments sections on Colombo Telegraph,  has taken his place, and is crowing that we have egg on our faces now that there is a new surge of cases in Sri Lanka and we should be embarrassed about our boasting.

Deaths Rising Everywhere

It seems to be a very odd thing to find joy in Sri Lanka’s new outbreak of the virus. I take no joy in the fact that nearly 100,000 people are catching coronavirus every day in England, and the daily number of deaths is 350. Britain has crossed the one million mark for total cases, according to a New York Times database, and its death toll from the virus is 58,925, one of the highest in Europe. This is well past the civilian death toll from the Blitz in World War Two, terror attacks and soldiers lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I worry for friends and family in the UK. I had been hoping to visit. A much-loved family member died in the early days of the epidemic. More Sri Lankans have died in the UK than have died in Sri Lanka.

Timothy Snyder, the distinguished American historian, pointed out that more Americans have died of the virus than were killed in Vietnam: “Coronavirus has killed more Americans than the Wehrmacht, or the Japanese imperial army, or indeed any other battlefield foe. We endure the equivalent of 9/11 every few days. This time, though, Americans took decisions that killed horrendous numbers of other Americans.”

The ICN (International Council of Nurses) V has revealed that as many nurses have now died from coronavirus than were killed during the entirety of the First World War. The latest figures collated by the federation of 130 national nurses’ associations show that 1,500 nurses have lost their lives since the pandemic began around the world. However, the ICN expects the figure of 1,500 to be a significant underestimate, as it only includes those who have died in 44 countries where data was available.  

New Cases in Sri Lanka

The total number of COVID-19 cases reported in Sri Lanka rose to 12,970 and the number of deaths has risen to 30. Upul Rohana, President of the PHIA (Public Health Inspectors’ Association of Sri Lanka), said the spread of COVID-19 in the CMC (Colombo Municipal Council) area was ‘slightly out of control.’ Dr Ruwan Wijayamuni, Chief of the CMCPHD (Colombo Municipal Council Public Health Department), denied that the COVID-19 situation in the CMC area was “somewhat out of control”. 

Sri Lanka’s new clusters were first found in a garment factory in Minuwangoda but the infection of a fish market in Peliyagoda, where large numbers of traders, buyers from restaurants and individual customers buy each day, led to a wide spread of the disease.

Brandix

I wrote about the Brandix situation in these pages on October 15. Brandix issued a number of statements denying allegations that were circulating on social media that they were bringing in workers from India to work in their factory at Minuwangoda and not following the correct procedures on testing and quarantine. On 7 October, a statement said, “no parties from India or any other country have had access to the facility during this period.” 

I do not have the resources to be an investigative journalist but I can analyse statements and balance one side against the other. Why did Brandix deny bringing workers from India and then admit to bringing Sri Lankan workers from India? The issue is not the nationality of the workers but the fact they were brought in and they appear to have brought the virus with them. Why were they brought in?

Why did Brandix issue the bold statement: “Brandix DOES NOT have the authority to operate a private aircraft in & out of India!” when it is well-known that Brandix CEO, Ashroff Omar, is on the board of directors of Sri Lankan Airlines and Brandix admitted on October 7,  “We operated three chartered flights from Visakhapatnam, India” and the aircraft chartered belonged to Sri Lankan Airlines.

If Brandix followed the recognised government protocols “under the supervision of the respective PHIs”, why does the PHIU deny participating?

Blaming the People

Brandix received support from former Sunday Leader journalist and Newsline TV presenter Faraz Shauketaly: “The fact of the matter is that all Sri Lanka has an attitude of complacency brought about by several weeks of literally leading the global pack with relatively low positive cases. Somewhere for whatever reason it would appear that Cv19 spread to the ranks of Brandix staff. It is too much to believe that the senior management and Board of Brandix gambled and forced contractors to carry on in spite of showing signs not conducive to CV19. Brandix is a Sri Lanka success story. It is easy to be critical but think of the positives this company has brought to the general wellbeing of our nation. Let us show some sympathy, some decorum and some understanding at this critical time for our nation as a whole. And learn from the collective laxity all around.”

Faraz Shauketaly, uses weasel words to deflect attention away from Brandix: “learn from the collective laxity all around”. Shauketaly has no new evidence to offer, merely the assertion that his well-heeled friends at Brandix could not possibly behave badly. This is rather like Boris Johnson blaming the British public for the spread of the virus in the UK and defending his cronies like Dido Harding. There is little doubt that this new cluster originated with Brandix. Don’t blame the public, Faraz. The public won’t like that.

Bad Examples for the People

In the UK, Boris Johnson recently suggested that the reason the virus was spiking was because “everybody got a bit, kind of complacent and blasé”. This is the man who was boasting about not wearing a mask when he visited NHS hospitals, who was proud of shaking hands with front line health care workers (one nurse who met him subsequently died of the virus and he came close to death himself). Public compliance was not encouraged when Boris Johnson’s chief adviser blatantly flouted the rules that he had helped to formulate. Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have been handed a 225-page dossier urging them to investigate Dominic Cummings for allegedly perverting the course of justice, (a crime which could lead to a life sentence) in relation to a statement about his journeys to the north-east of England at the height of the pandemic.

UK ministers, including the prime minister himself, seem to get very confused about the guidelines they are expecting the public to follow. Michael Gove apologised after wrongly claiming people may be able to play golf or tennis, while Robert Jenrick mistakenly said people from a whole household could take a stroll with another person from another household.

Some individuals and groups of ordinary people will always behave stupidly and recklessly. I heard the story that a man who lives in a housing complex near the HNB ATM that I use felt some symptoms and went to a surgery near the Sampath ATM that I use to get himself tested. He had to wait a few days for his result and, rather than staying at home, went to the Cargills branch that I use and several other shops that I use and had a jolly time visiting friends. In the UK, there were horrendous images of people crowding into Soho pubs and onto beaches.

Many if not most ordinary people try to do the best for themselves and others. It was not conducive to public discipline for the golf club of the Irish parliament to break the rules. It was not conducive to public discipline to allow Cheltenham races to go ahead and then give the woman, Dido Harding, responsible for that decision an influential role in dealing with the pandemic. It was not conducive to public discipline to allow rules to be flouted during the Thondaman funeral. Apparently, medical professionals concede that the holding of mass rallies in Sri Lanka for the Parliamentary elections in August resurrected the virus.

AG Calls for Brandix to Be Investigated

The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka reported that the state intelligence agencies conducted a thorough check on Brandix operations and that their findings, reported to President Rajapaksa, were “extremely damning”. Attorney General Dappula de Livera directed acting IGP CD Wickramaratne to investigate the COVID-19 spread from Brandix Minuwangoda and submit a progress report within two weeks.

A WEEE Problem that Is Getting Bigger

This article was published in Ceylon Today on October 28 2020

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/a-weee-problem-that-is-getting-bigger

I was pleased to receive a message on my (second-hand) smart phone inviting me to bring my e-waste to the local post office. I had up to October 10 to do this and just about met the deadline.  This seemed to be a very welcome initiative by the CEA (Central Environmental Authority). Mahinda Amaraweera, Minister for the Environment, said the programme was organised with the objective of minimising the harm caused to human beings, animals, and the environment by improper e-waste disposal. He said that all government agencies are bound by international development agreements to implement the UN SDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals).

The acronym WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. WEEE contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame-retardants and polyvinyl chloride. These substances cause cancer, respiratory and reproductive problems. Even a low level of exposure of children and pregnant women can cause serious neurological damage. Phthalates causes sterility; chlorinated dioxins cause Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Unregulated WEEE activities do not only harm those working directly with the materials but also contaminate agricultural lands and livestock and enter the food chain.

E-waste represents 2% of America’s garbage in landfills, but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste. The US generates 3.4 million tons of WEEE a year only 11% of which is recycled. Only 15% of Indian WEEE is recycled, while the remaining was mixed with normal waste.

The communications revolution combined with rampant consumerism has created vast amounts of cyber-clutter, as people feel compelled constantly to upgrade their phones and computers. I have never been an early adopter. I have never been a great fan of phones of any kind and I have only recently been forced to use a smart phone. In those dark days when I had to work for a living, The Management was always trying to force gadgets on us; there were little hand-held computers called Organisers which one had to go on courses to learn how to operate. I never used mine at all and was chastised for creating this redundant e-waste. I found it much easier to jot things down in my diary – and I don’t mean Filofax. I tread lightly on the earth. I had an amplifier that served me well for over 30 years and speakers that lasted 20 years.

Even a Luddite like myself manages to accumulate a lot of redundant electronic rubbish. Some of it is a result of well-meant but misplaced charity, or recycling by friends and family. Some of it is stuff like my trusty old amplifier which reaches the end of its natural life and crawls away to die. It is difficult know what to do with this redundant equipment.

Electronic waste is sometimes recycled in a bad way, finding its way into counterfeit parts. A 2011 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee said that the US military supply chain might contain over one million counterfeit parts, including crucial avionics components. Counterfeit Chinese parts have been detected in the instrumentation of C-130J Hercules transport aircraft. Failure of these components would leave pilots with blank instrument panels in mid-flight. Production of these counterfeit parts often begins as electronic waste, shipped from the US to Hong Kong.

The only answer seems to be to send e-waste to another country and cause a problem elsewhere. In direct violation of federal law, Colorado-based firm Executive Recycling falsely claimed they would process waste in the US. Instead, they exported it. The fine was US$4.5 million and the court sentenced CEO, Brandon Richter, to two and a half years in prison.

The EU exported 220,000 tons of WEEE to West Africa in 2009. Some products sent as charitable donations, ostensibly for reuse, are unusable. In Ghana 30% of WEEE imports are unusable. Pakistan receives thousands of tons of WEEE every year from developed countries.

Creative capitalists have developed markets in WEEE. There are companies that extract gold, silver, palladium and base metals such as copper and nickel from circuit boards. Their worth can reach more than $15 per pound. The microprocessors inside circuit boards can sell for more than $30 per pound. EWEEE could prove a valuable source of metals in developing countries if the dangerous work processes were to be regulated. All over the world, local communities are taking positive steps to encourage recycling. New York state residents produce more than 300 million pounds of electronic waste each year. New laws make manufacturers responsible for the recycling of their own products and bans disposals of consumer electronics in landfills. A study from the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) shows that retailers are lagging behind consumers in social responsibility.

How did the recent Sri Lankan initiative work out? I sent my e-waste to the post office and wondered what would happen to it. Would it be dumped in a land-fill? What happened to it was that it boomeranged back to me (as do some of the letters I deposit at the post office). They only seemed to be interested in phones and computers that they could find an immediate use for thmselves.

I have looked at a number of academic studies on the subject and am filled with despair. No-one seems to have a solution and the problem just keeps growing. One study of the Sri Lankan situation says: “Currently all the E-waste collected within the country is being exported because of the unavailability of a recycling facility for electronic waste. Hence it is an urgent requirement to establish an environmentally sound E-waste recycling facility to cater E-waste generated within the country.” That does not get us very far.

It would be interesting if Minister Mahinda Amaraweera could clarify what criteria were given for deciding which items of e-waste would be accepted at post offices. The only guidance I could find was a statement that only domestic e-waste and not industrial-grade machinery would be accepted. I certainly have never had any industrial-grade machinery. What are we to do with the items that we are still stuck with? It would also be interesting to learn what was done with the items that were accepted at post offices.

Democracy in Sri Lanka Part 1 An Irish perspective

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on August 20 2020

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/part-1-sri-lankan-democracy-irish-perspective

 

Sad, Soggy Images

Our gated residential complex is littered with sad, soggy images of aspirant politicians. In the run-up to the Sri Lankan parliamentary election on August 5 2020, our normally sedate environment was infested with disreputable-looking teams of party workers distributing election ‘literature’. I caught a fellow tossing a leaflet over my front gate. I explained to him: “this red metal thing with a hole in it is a letter box. Why did you not put your leaflet in the hole rather than chucking it into the garden?” He mumbled apologetically. I said, “I won’t be voting for your lot”. Being a privileged white imperialist exploiter, I don’t actually have a vote, but the principle is sound.

 Ranil Brings Us to Sri Lanka

Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) was responsible for me coming to live in Sri Lanka. We had a holiday in Sri Lanka in 2001 and my Sri Lankan wife liked it so much that she wanted to return to her motherland. The war against the LTTE was still on but Ranil had agreed a cease-fire.  As we traveled about the country on our holiday, we could see that war had become a way of life. Military check points were so well-established that they were covered in advertisements.

PIC BY SAMAN SRI WEDAGE

Terrorism

We had been living in Ireland from March 1998. Soon after we arrived in Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement was signed and there was hope for peace. Martin McGuinness went from being a terrorist murderer to being a statesman and minister in the new Stormont government. My friend, the Reverend Harold Good OBE, told me he was proud to call McGuinness his friend. Harold spoke at McGuinness’s funeral.  “Our paths crossed many times and often he trod the path that came to our home and that is where you make friendship as you share your own fireside.” Harold has always refused to discuss his role in the peace process but it is a matter of recorded history that it was he who made the formal announcement that the Provisional IRA had decommissioned their arms, effectively saying the war was over.

McGuinness’s contribution to the Sri Lankan problem was not helpful; he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. McGuinness criticised the EU for banning the Tamil Tigers as a Terrorist Organization. He said, “it was a huge mistake for EU leaders to demonize the LTTE and the political leaders of the Tamil people.” The problem was that they were demons and only represented the Tamil people in so far as they killed off any rivals. McGuinness told Sri Lanka: “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”. In Sri Lanka, there was a military victory over brutal terrorists who steadfastly refused to compromise or accommodate. He may have meant well, but he was over-optimistic in seeing parallels with the Irish situation.  If Sri Lanka had followed McGuinness’s advice, we would still be suffering from the atrocities of the LTTE.

It was never likely that Prabhakaran would model himself on Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams. Like McGuinness, RW believed a political solution could be reached through negotiations. A ceasefire agreement (CFA) was signed on 22 February 2002. There was a sigh of relaxation and Sri Lankans began travelling to places they had not visited in years. We did not know much about Ranil at that time. Our friends in Ireland (they were retired from jobs at the UN; she was a very westernised Indian and he was an Italian) spoke highly of him. He looked very reassuring to foreigners. He wore western suits and not the traditional garb, shoes and socks rather than sandals. We moved to Sri Lanka on July 4 2002.

The war did not end but we stuck it out. The LTTE frequently broke the cease fire and used the opportunity to regroup and rearm. Critics saw the CFA as a threat to the sovereignty and unity of Sri Lanka which would lead to a separate state for the LTTE. I was trepidatious about the future when Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected president in 2005 but I soon came to realise that a military solution was the only option.

Corruption

The Yahapalana Government won the 2015 elections, presidential and parliamentary, mainly by promising to root out corruption and establish good governance. No-one was brought to book but the allegations are still trotted out. Many of those against whom allegations were made are back in Parliament.

Mere months after taking office, the Yahapalana crowd had their very own huge scandal in the bond scams. Although he had opposed the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran as governor of the Central Bank, President Sirisena stood by the UNP. Sirisena dissolved parliament, on the night of June 26, 2015, to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) presenting its report to parliament.

The voters have rejected many of those involved in the bond scam and the cover up – RW, Karunanayake, Ajith P Perera, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and Sujeewa Senasinghe. The JVP, which was perceived as siding with the UNP, lost three out of its six seats. Now that they are out of parliament Wickremesinghe and Karunanayake face the prospect of lengthy legal proceedings.

Easter Bombings

We had a very good buffet lunch at the Cinnamon Grand on April 14 2019. The staff at the Taprobane Room were very efficient and attentive. Just a week later, suicide bombers had targeted Catholic churches and luxury hotels killing 269 people. Our waiter at the Taprobane room was among the dead.

The president was in Singapore when the slaughter occurred and did not rush to return home. He took two days to come up with a mendacious and self-serving statement. India had passed on specific intelligence to Sri Lankan authorities that a terrorist attack was imminent, and even gave addresses where the bombers could be found. Politicians passed warnings to their friends and increased their own security protection but did not give a damn about the wider public.

Covid 19

A major contribution to the electoral success of the SLPP must have been the competent way that President Rajapaksa has coped with the pandemic, restricting the number of deaths to eleven. Even Dayan Jayatilleke, who has transformed himself from a friend of the Rajapaksas into a feeble foe, concedes, “There are few citizens who are not thankful that it is this administration rather than the previous one, in charge at this time. The armed forces and personnel of the State machinery as a whole are going flat out, motivated and functioning as they never would have been under the decrepit, languid, lackadaisical Ranilist UNP governmental sub-culture. “

The Economy, Stupid!

When I first came to live in Sri Lanka, the economy and the infrastructure were in a parlous state. We had to take a 36-kilometer round trip on terrible roads just to get cash from an ATM. There were just two banks in Passara and neither had an ATM so one had to queue. Today there are at least 12 modern and efficient banks in Passara each with an ATM.

The Rajapaksa government entered upon huge infrastructure projects which improved the quality of life of most people. After the civil war ended in May 2009, political stability was restored; tourism, exports, and workers’ remittances picked up; and previously under-utilized land and labor resources in the north and east benefited the nation as a whole. There were annual GDP growth rates of 8 percent, 8.4 percent, and 9.1 percent over the three-year period 2010-12.

To get elected in 2015 the coalition made profligate promises, such as an extra Rs. 10,000 to nearly 1.3 million state sector employees. GDP growth declined steeply from 5% in 2015 to 2.3% in 2019. The World Bank recently downgraded Sri Lanka from an upper-middle income to a lower-middle income country.

Mr Clean, Mr Bean Mr Has-Been

RW took over after the UNP had ruled for 17 years. He became the longest-serving opposition leader and under him the UNP never won an election as a single party. Wickremesinghe’s main concern has seemed to be retaining the leadership of the UNP, at whatever cost, rather than doing what is best for his country and his party. He was a master of using protocol to fend off challenges. It was indicative of his character that he did not immediately resign from the UNP leadership after his humiliating defeat in the August 2020 election.

 

 

 

Animal Welfare in Sri Lanka

This article was published in Ceylon Today on July 30 2020

https://uploads.ceylontoday.lk/epapers/files/2020-07-30-%20Ceylon%20Today.pdf

A lady reported that a household near her home had a pedigree dog locked up in a kennel for two years. The animal was severely emaciated and living in its own excrement. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the dog had, in fact, been locked up for six years. It was not a pedigree dog. The family considered it as such because it was not a street dog and money had been paid for it. The son of the household had been determined to own the dog even though the previous owner had not wanted to part with it. He forced money on the man and took the dog. The son then moved out of the household and left the dog behind. He is now living elsewhere and has another dog. The womenfolk of the household were afraid the dog would run away so they kept her locked up. They were afraid she would get pregnant and could not afford or did not think of sterilisation. They did not want her defecating all over the place so they did not feed her much.

When concerned citizens reported the case, Embark (a charity which is part of the Otara Foundation. Otara Del Gunawardene is a successful businesswoman who founded the Odel chain of shops and now devotes her time to charitable causes) sent one of their vans to rescue the dog which is called Lassie. She was very weak but the women said, “Be careful. She will bite”. She did not bite but licked her rescuers. The women were shocked that Lassie responded with affection when shown kindness. They had obviously never tried it themselves.

The case has attracted a lot of attention on social media. The last time I looked there were over 7,000 views on Instagram. Otara wrote: “make a difference and help to awaken those who don’t understand how horrendous such acts of cruelty are for innocent animals.” People were quite naturally horrified at Lassie’s suffering. One comment was, “Karma will give them crippled children or grandchildren.  Sickening evil humans”.

This is what Embark reported: “Hi, Lassie is doing well. We visited the hospital yesterday. She is a lovely dog, very friendly and always wants a pat on the head. She has no major issues at the moment, they suspect some eye condition, a cataract most probably. We will have to wait a few more days to actually know what other issues she has. But all in all, she is happy and free.”

It was strange to observe that the people responsible for Lassie’s prolonged suffering did not seem to be evil people even though over a period of six years they had been doing evil things. I have noted a tendency for Sri Lankans to join with foreigners to condemn Sri Lankans as particularly cruel to animals. Generally speaking, Sri Lankans seem to me to be guilty of negligence and ignorance rather than active cruelty. It is not too different from what we encountered in Ireland. I could write reams about examples of cruelty to animals in the UK and Ireland. Dog-fighting has become a spectator sport in England. There are puppy farms in Ireland. I was once involved in a case where a man in Sussex reacted to his neighbours’ complaints about his barking dog by cutting off the dog’s testicles and nailing them to the neighbours’ front door. I have not the space here to indulge in too much whataboutery concerning cruelty to animals in other countries. More detail can be found here.

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/a-puppy-is-not-just-for-christmas/

 

Despite the large numbers of dogs roaming the streets in Sri Lanka, one rarely sees dogs that have been run over, even by our notoriously maniacal hopped-up bus drivers. The road from Midleton to Cork was littered with dead foxes, indicating that Irish drivers were not interested in avoiding them and might even have been aiming at them. There are so many good people in Sri Lanka campaigning for animal welfare and so many people working hard at the practical tasks of feeding and sterilizing and rehoming abandoned dogs.

 

There are many aspects of animal welfare in Sri Lanka that are in need of improvement. Perhaps the most important is for the media to help create a culture of responsible pet ownership. My tutor at Manchester University, Louis Kushnick, taught me something that I have never forgotten. Some people argue that you cannot use the law to stop people being racists. You can use the law to modify their behaviour. Their attitude does not really matter. Rules and regulations are important because even if you cannot stop people hating animals you can stop them causing animals to suffer. You may not change attitudes but you might change behaviour. The Sri Lankan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the colonial government in 1907 is ineffective mainly because its sanctions have never been updated. The maximum fine is only Rs100 (41p or 53 cents). The authorities have tended to think it not worthwhile to pursue even cases involving heinous cruelty to animals.

On January 14 2020, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said he had informed the relevant authorities to take any necessary action to put an end to animal cruelty. He said he was shocked to hear of incidents reported from around Sri Lanka of horrific displays of cruelty to animals. In June 2006, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s website proudly carried a letter from Monika Kostner in Germany: “Mr President, let me congratulate you on the path that you have chosen. Please continue pursuing it. I greatly welcome your pledge to bring stringent laws against cruelty to animals. Do not give way to those political forces and vested interests, which are keen to continue the outdated, cruel treatment of animals. After all, they are living and feeling creatures.” Despite resistance from some of his underlings, President Rajapaksa continued to insist that street dogs should not be killed. Former President Sirisena, when he was Minister of Health, made a statement in Kalutara on January 6, 2012, that he had decided to revive the policy of killing street dogs “in the traditional way”. The “traditional way” is a very painful process. Dogs undergo immense suffering after the poison is injected, sometimes writhing in agony for hours, jerking with muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth. Mahinda Rajapaksa has stood firm against the slaughter of street dogs.

As long ago as December 2007, I wrote: “another encouraging development is that an Animal Welfare Bill has been gazetted as a Private Member’s Bill by the Venerable Athureliye Ratana Thero MP. This Bill could enable Sri Lanka to provide a model for other Asian countries to incorporate in their legislation modern standards for the way humans co-exist with other sentient beings.” One of the objectives of the bill was to raise community awareness about animal welfare and to foster kindness, compassion, and responsible behaviour towards animals.

My optimism was unfounded. The Animal Welfare Bill, fourteen years later, has still not become law. Mahinda Rajapaksa is now prime minister and is clearly still interested in dealing with cruelty to animals; Gotabaya Rajapaksa is now president with a good deal of authority and support (last November he won the presidential election with a majority of 52.5% on a turnout of 81.52% – the highest ever); eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa is now minister with responsibility for animal welfare. Let us hope that after the parliamentary elections, there will be no further obstacles to making the Animal Welfare Bill the law of the land and the brothers will achieve justice for animals in Sri Lanka. May I be optimistic again?

Community awareness is the most important aspect. It is the moral duty of every citizen to report examples of cruelty to animals that come to notice. This is not snooping or being a busybody. It is vigilance, awareness, what in today’s parlance is called ‘wokeness’. It is empathy and living an ethical life.

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Lanka and the Pandemic Part Two

This article was published in Ceylon Today on June 3 2020. Unfortunately, there was a ten-day delay between submission and publication and they did not take account of my updates.

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/57728

 

Lack of Recognition

 

I hope you don’t get bored with me repeating this. Sri Lanka has a population of 21.4 million. There have been eleven deaths from the virus. I have been pressing this point not because I expect other nations to copy Sri Lanka but purely out of bemusement that the Sri Lanka situation has been totally blanked out.

International Comparisons Are Odious

Ireland is often held up as a good example. The death toll there is now (June 2) 1,651, out of a population of 4.9 million. A virtual Irish friend, a former diplomat, tentatively suggested that Ireland might have special circumstances which made it more difficult to cope with the pandemic than it is for Sri Lanka. “Small or medium-sized highly globalised countries located within the main highway of the globalised economy and with high volumes of diverse migrant and visitor population flows (Ireland, Sweden, UK) may have a greater exposure”.

Globalisation

Sri Lanka is not exempt from globalisation. Sri Lanka’s land mass is roughly the same as the island of Ireland but the population is 5.25 times that of the Republic. Like Ireland, Sri Lanka does not have huge cities and there is a lot of open nature and mountains. Ireland has long had a problem with rural depopulation. However, it is obvious that Sri Lanka has a greater density of urban population than Ireland.  Ireland only started attracting immigrants in recent times but Sri Lanka has long had a very diverse ethnic mix. Even today, there are communal frictions because of the government’s insistence on cremation of Covid19 victims.

Sri Lanka’s geographical position makes it a global hub for maritime traffic. It has attracted a vast amount of Chinese investment and personnel. Chinese collaborative projects with Sri Lanka developed a working population of Chinese and Sri Lankans that moved between the two countries.

Migrant Labour

Among the many factors severely damaging the Sri Lankan economy during the pandemic is the effect on migrant labour. Way back in 2008, I wrote: “remittances from migrant workers represent more than nine per cent of GDP. Sri Lanka receives US$ 526 million more in remittances than it does from foreign aid and foreign direct investment combined.”   Some of the clusters of confirmed cases arose because migrant workers returning from Italy were disappearing into their local communities without registering with the police or being tested.

Early Measures

Sri Lankan National Health Services, headed by Director General Anil Jasinghe, established 46 quarantine centres.  In the early stages, repatriated migrant workers from Italy and South Korea, were placed in quarantine facilities close to their hometowns They were transported by Government and military to prevent contact between family members, and all vehicles and contaminants were duly sanitized.  The military provided beds and bedding for the quarantine units.

Sri Lanka is fortunate in that it is an island nation which accepts most of its visitors through one international airport, Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). In January, (when the UK was doing nothing) travellers reported that they were subjected to thermal screening at BIA.  Quarantine facilities were quickly established and expanded. Facilities for treating Corona patients were quickly made available in 16 major hospitals with IDH (Infectious Diseases Hospital) at Angoda as the key institution.

Well-Established Health Service

One of the advantages that Sri Lanka enjoys is a free healthcare network of state hospitals nationwide supplemented by a thriving well-equipped private system. Sri Lanka’s state-funded universal health care service has considerable experience in managing deadly diseases.  Malaria and polio were eliminated and AIDS, SARS, H1N1, Chikungunya and MERS were successfully tackled. In 2005, Sri Lanka did not suffer the much-anticipated epidemics following the Indian Ocean tsunami.  In the IDP camps at the end of the war against the LTTE in 2009, there was not the predicted outbreak of deadly disease.

MOH (Medical Officer of Health) geographical areas were established across the island in 1926 to provide preventive health services at a community level, through a team of medical officers, public health nurses, health inspectors and midwives.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Health Services in Sri Lanka said: “We have been able to minimize the number of patients and even with the present-day clusters, we believe that with our strong public health system, we will soon be able to curtail the numbers.”

Lockdown

All flights to BIA were stopped from March 19. High-risk areas in the Negombo and Puttalam districts were locked down. Schools closed indefinitely. Government offices closed and working from home was encouraged.  Large gatherings were banned and the planned parliamentary election was postponed. An island-wide curfew was monitored by the police and the armed forces. To date (June 2 ) over 60, 000 people have been arrested for curfew violation and will be prosecuted. Over 13,500 vehicles have been impounded.

The garment export industry stepped in to retool and provide PPE supplies for medical personnel and the general public. The state-owned Sugar Corporation and the private distillery companies provided alcohol-based sanitizers.

Tracing

Systems were set up at an early stage to facilitate the exchange of medical information. Police were involved at an early stage in tracking down people likely to have been exposed to the virus. Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Major General Kamal Gunaratne, announced on April 19 that army intelligence officers would obtain the assistance of telecommunication service providers to trace contacts and places visited by COVID-19 patients.

As soon as the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health hears from a designated laboratory of a positive case, its staff activate “case search” among the infected person’s close contacts. The “activation” essentially involves informing the military and State Intelligence Service immediately, who then proceed to trace those who had been in contact with the patient, and direct them to quarantine.

Armed Forces

The army, navy and air force have played a huge role in the success of Sri Lanka’s anti-Covid programme. My Irish friend is correct in saying that it would be unlikely that the Irish defence forces could play as prominent a role as the Sri Lankan Tri-Forces.

There are many who are worried about militarization. “Placing an army General at the helm of the campaign against the epidemic is as inane as asking a medical doctor with zero-military training to lead a war,” wrote columnist Tisaranee Gunasekara. She describes the deployment of sailors as inept. During the current crisis, the Navy handled shipments of food supplies from ports and delivered them to the public.  Sailors were deployed to hunt down a group of drug addicts who had contact with a COVID-19 patient and were evading quarantine. New cases of infection seem to be sailors who have been involved in front-line activities on our behalf. This phenomenon is being described as the ‘Navy cluster’.

Democracy in Doubt

Critics argue that the president is ruling by task force without a parliament. The Electoral Commission has declared than an election cannot take place in the foreseeable future. There are calls to reconvene the parliament that was dissolved on March 3. That parliament, elected five years ago, is no longer representative. It has 106 UNP seats but since then the UNP has lost ground to the SLPP and the SLFP barely exists. In the much-delayed local elections of February 2018, the UNP were only able to secure 34 councils out of 340, whereas the SLPP won 231.

The authority of the Irish Cabinet is diminished by the fact that three of its members were voted out of the Dáil (parliament) in the general election on February 8 but remain in Government. It could be argued that Sinn Féin won the election, but they are being kept out of power by the two parties who normally take to turns to govern. The Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar is getting good world press for the way he is handling the crisis (and working one day a week as doctor – medical, not political science) but his party was defeated in the election. The Dáil hardly exists at present and its committees are in abeyance.

The argument about militarization could be turned on its head. The military has been civilized to make an effective contribution to civilian well-being. Ordinary people who do not write for newspapers or work for NGOs appreciate this. I have been given permission by the commenter to quote this from Facebook. “Our President is forging ahead in brilliance, with innovative decisions, gaining the confidence of more and more people. This is the very reason for all the Opposition bull shit every day! They have no credibility after yahapalana period!”

Sri Lanka and the Pandemic

Go Home

One reads a lot in the western press about how badly the UK and US governments are coping with the Covid19 pandemic. One of the UK’s diplomatic strengths has long been its international advocacy for global health, and its current poor domestic performance may cause other nations to think again about the prestige accorded to Britain. Britain’s embarrassing failures undermine its soft power in the international arena and ‘less-developed’ nations may be even less willing to listen to British ‘advice’ on health and, indeed, other matters.

A few weeks ago, Sarah Hulton OBE, UK High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, went on Facebook to advise any British citizens still loitering about in Sr Lanka to hie them hence smartish. She noted that some British passport holders were in Sri Lanka visiting family. She reiterated the UK Government advice that all British nationals who normally live in the UK should return to the UK now. She wrote: “Serious outbreaks of coronavirus are placing a significant strain on health services globally. In the event of a serious outbreak in Sri Lanka, consular services and flights out of the country could be seriously affected. We cannot guarantee what flight options might be available if people choose to leave at a later date.” I well remember that after the tsunami, UK “consular services” were as helpful as the proverbial chocolate teapot.  If these lingerers, who probably see themselves as Sri Lankans, want to stay with their families in Sri Lanka in this difficult time, why tell them to go to the UK to add to the UK’s burden? One person wryly asked why the High Commissioner was sending fellow citizens to the UK to a death sentence.

 

Imperial Arrogance

Was the High Commissioner really saying “get back to Blighty soon because when it really hits the fan these damned colonials won’t be able to cope with it”? It should be noted that many of those doing their best to cope with the crisis in the UK are immigrants. Most of the NHS staff who have died, including a Sri Lankan, Dr Anton Sebastianpillai, were immigrants, immigrants who survived the “hostile environment” created by Theresa May but perished trying to save others. One nurse who died had been photographed with Boris Johnson. He has been highly irresponsible in spreading the virus and has the Galle Face to praise the NHS for saving his life.

Exploitation of Immigrants

Foreign staff working for the NHS actually have to pay the UK government for the privilege of working. This surcharge is £400 a year and was due to increase to £624 until Keir Starmer raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on May 20. NHS and care staff already ‘contribute’ to the cost of the NHS through their taxes, and this surcharge effectively taxes them twice. According to Paul Waugh of Huffington Post, some NHS trusts are so incensed by the iniquity of the surcharge that they actually pay it on behalf of their staff. Johnson bumblingly admitted at PMQs that foreign NHS staff saved his life but insisted that the £900 million the surcharge brings in was indispensable to the nation. A spokesman admitted to Huffington Post that he didn’t know how much NHS and care workers actually do pay, let alone the healthcare costs of foreign worker. A spokesman later said: “The PM has asked the Home Office and Department of Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible”.

Confusion Rule the Waves

As I write (May 22) people in the UK are totally confused by the government’s latest guidance. Boris Johnson is coming under increasing criticism for the missteps he has taken in dealing with the crisis from the outset. He now has a formidable opponent in the new leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. Starmer has had a distinguished career as a human rights barrister and served five years as the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions. He brings incisive forensic skills to his questioning of inept government ministers who have never done a proper job in their lives. Johnson and his possible successor, Gove, were journalists (not very good ones). It is depressing to contemplate what a better job Starmer would be doing as prime minister, depressing to contemplate the missed opportunities, the lives needlessly lost.

Despite the difficulties, the situation in Sri Lanka is encouraging. Health Review Global did a thorough analysis and concluded: “We have studied the responses of many countries to the coronavirus pandemic. We at healthreviewglobal.com decided to select Sri Lanka for its swift and impressive response to the global epidemic despite being a second world economy. On top of it, we learned the importance of investing in public health”.

Lack of Recognition

Nevertheless, it is surprising how little coverage there is world-wide of Sri Lanka’s battle against the virus. The London Sunday Times published an article entitled Lifting Lockdown: What Britain can learn from the rest of the world. The article draws on a report by the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. Readers are invited to: “Select any of the 109 countries tracked to see their lockdown journey.” I scrolled down the list and discovered a strange gap between Spain and Sudan. Shouldn’t Sri Lanka be in there?

The London Times: “by early March, it was clear that transmission was being restricted in parts of Asia through testing and tracing. South Korea has yet to have a single day with more than nine deaths, and has kept offices, restaurants and shops open.” Sri Lanka has locked down and there have only been nine deaths IN TOTAL.

On May 21, the New York Times published a map of the global spread of the virus. Sri Lanka was not on the map but our junior neighbours, the Maldive Islands, were. The Maldives has a population of 540,544 and there have been four deaths

New Zealand, which locked down before it had a single death, has seen its stringency score fall by nearly ten points. New Zealand and its prime minister have justly been praised for a successful approach to the crisis. New Zealand’s population is 4.88 million; there have been 21 deaths.

I hope you don’t get bored with me repeating this. Sri Lanka has a population of 21.4 million. There have been nine deaths from the virus.

Nepal reported its what was claimed to be its first coronavirus death on May 16 — a 29-year-old woman had who recently given birth — as the total number of people infected in the country reached 281. Nepal’s population is 28 million. In January, Nepal was the first south Asian country to report a case of coronavirus. The country has been under lockdown since March 24 after a second case was confirmed. Epidemiologist Lhamo Sherpa said, “I don’t think this is the first death. There have been cases of deaths where similar symptoms were seen, but the cause was unclear”.

Sri Lanka’s Action

 

The Sri Lankan government deserves praise for the way it has handled the crisis. Sri Lanka reacted rapidly to early warnings while most Western countries complacently carried on as normal. The world was put on notice on 31 December 2019, when the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported an unusual cluster of cases of pneumonia. Our president, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, elected by a decisive majority last November, followed up his advice to people to stay at home and keep a safe social distance by imposing a curfew from Friday 20 March at 6.00 p.m. The first reported case involving a Sri Lankan national, a 52-year-old tour guide, was declared recovered and released from quarantine on March 26. On 28 March, the first death from the virus was announced. The victim was 60-year-old diabetic who had had a heart transplant. As of May 16, the total number of confirmed cases is 935 and 477 patients have completely recovered so far. There have been nine deaths.

Odious Comparisons

When I initially compared the total number of deaths in Sri Lanka and UK, I was told such comparisons could not be made. The UK government is also arguing that international comparisons are odious. Odious to them, perhaps, because deaths in the UK are, at 36,550 (May 23) the worst in Europe (According to the Financial Times, it’s probably nearer 63,000). The UK population is 67.83 million. Sri Lanka’s population is 21.67 million. The UK accounts for less than one per cent of the global population but accounts for 12 per cent of reported Covid deaths.

It is very strange that Sri Lanka is never mentioned when comparative responses to the virus are being discussed. Ireland is held up as a good example. The population of the Republic of Ireland is 4.94 million. As of 23 May, the Irish Department of Health has confirmed a total of 1,592 deaths. Sri Lanka’s population is 21.4 million and there have been nine deaths. There is of course the danger of complacency but let’s give ourselves a little encouragement in these dark days.

A well-informed Irish friend, a former diplomat, tentatively suggested that Ireland might have special circumstances which made it more difficult for it to cope with the pandemic than it is for Sri Lanka. “Small or medium-sized highly globalised countries located within the main highway of the globalised economy and with high volumes of diverse migrant and visitor population flows (Ireland, Sweden, UK) may have a greater exposure”.

Sri Lanka is not exempt from globalisation. Sri Lanka’s land mass is roughly the same as the island of Ireland but the population is 5.25 times that of the Republic. Like Ireland, Sri Lanka does not have huge cities and there is a lot of open nature and mountains. Ireland has long had a problem with rural depopulation. However, it is obvious that Sri Lanka has a greater density of population in urban areas than Ireland.  Ireland only started attracting immigrants in recent times but Sri Lanka has long had a very diverse ethnic mix. Even today, there are communal frictions because of the government’s insistence on cremation of Covid victims.

Sri Lanka’s geographical position makes it a global hub for maritime traffic. It has attracted a vast amount of Chinese investment and personnel which makes India take a keen geopolitical interest. Chinese collaborative projects with Sri Lanka developed a working population of Chinese and Sri Lankans that moved between the two countries. The Department of Immigration and Emigration informed all construction sites to restrict their Chinese employees to their respective workplaces and lodgings

Migrant Labour

Among the many factors severely damaging the Sri Lankan economy during the pandemic is the effect on migrant labour. Way back in 2008, I wrote: “remittances from migrant workers represent more than nine per cent of GDP. Sri Lanka receives US$ 526 million more in remittances than it does from foreign aid and foreign direct investment combined. These remittances are now a greater source of revenue than our tea exports.”  It long ago became the norm for remittances from migrant workers to bear the main burden of containing Sri Lanka’s fiscal deficit. According to the 2012 Annual Statistics of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, approximately 1.8 million Sri Lankans were working abroad of which 51% were men and 49% were women. These people are having to come home. A considerable number of returnees are from badly affected countries and this causes problems. Some of the clusters of confirmed cases arose because migrant workers returning from Italy were disappearing into their local communities without registering with the police or being tested.

Sri Lankan National Health Services, headed by Director General Anil Jasinghe, established 46 quarantine centres.  In the early stages, repatriated migrant workers from Italy and South Korea, were placed in quarantine facilities close to their hometowns They were transported by Government and military to prevent contact between family members, and all vehicles and contaminants were duly sanitized.  The military provided beds and bedding for the quarantine units.

Sri Lanka is fortunate in that it is an island nation which accepts most of its visitors through one international airport, Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). In January, (when the UK was doing nothing) travellers reported that they were subjected to thermal screening at BIA.  Quarantine facilities were quickly established and expanded. Facilities for treating Corona patients were quickly made available in 16 major hospitals with IDH (Infectious Diseases Hospital) at Angoda as the key institution. Foreign tourists from 14 countries were among those quarantined.  When they were released many of them applauded in the media the efficient and courteous treatment they received.

Well-Established Health Service

One of the advantages that Sri Lanka enjoys is a free healthcare network of state hospitals nationwide supplemented by a thriving well-equipped private system. Sri Lanka’s state-funded universal health care service has considerable experience in managing deadly diseases.  Malaria and polio were eliminated and AIDS, SARS, H1N1, Chikungunya and MERS were successfully tackled. In 2005, Sri Lanka did not suffer the much-anticipated epidemics following the Indian Ocean tsunami.  In the IDP camps at the end of the war against the LTTE in 2009, there was not the predicted outbreak of deadly disease.

MOH (Medical Officer of Health) geographical areas were established across the island in 1926 to provide preventive health services at a community level, through a team of medical officers, public health nurses, health inspectors and midwives.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Health Services in Sri Lanka said: ““We have no issue whatsoever with our treatment capacities. We have been incrementally strengthening capacities. We don’t want to say how many ICU beds or how many hospitals are available, but I assure you we are ready for any number of cases”. The objective is mainly to minimize the number of patients at the outset, instead of allowing the disease to progress and having to treat patients at hospitals. Contrast this with the UK’s early flirtation with herd immunity. “We have been able to minimize the number of patients and even with the present-day clusters, we believe that with our strong public health system, we will soon be able to curtail the numbers.”

“Beggars have also been taken to certain residential facilities where they are taken care of. Notwithstanding the socio-economic level, I think they have been treated well and they are given clothes and meals, their requirements have been well looked after. Even the special segments of society are well looked after.”

Lockdown

All flights to BIA were stopped from March 19. High risk areas in the Negombo and Puttalam districts were locked down. Schools closed indefinitely. Government offices closed and working from home was encouraged.  Large gatherings were banned and the planned parliamentary election was postponed. An island-wide curfew was monitored by the police and the armed forces. To date (May 20) over 60,000 people have been arrested for curfew violation and will be prosecuted. Over 13,500 vehicles have been impounded.

Industry

The garment export industry stepped in to retool and provide PPE supplies for medical personnel and the general public. The state-owned Sugar Corporation and the private distillery companies provided alcohol-based sanitizers.

Industries with the ability to change their production lines and retool supported the government with making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including gowns and masks for medical personnel and other needs as required.

Religious organizations are donating to keep people and the front-line workers supported.  The Government is helping with financial and other relief for those who have lost earnings.

Tracing

Systems were set up to facilitate the exchange of medical information. Police were involved at an early stage in tracking down people likely to have been exposed to the virus and to deal with those who were uncooperative in following government guidelines. the Police Media Commissioner Ajith Rohana is an important member of the team.

Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Major General Kamal Gunaratne, announced on April 19 that army intelligence officers will obtain the assistance of telecommunication service providers to trace contacts and places visited by COVID-19 patients.

As soon as the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health hears from a designated laboratory of a positive case, its staff activate “case search” among the infected person’s close contacts. The “activation” essentially involves informing the military and State Intelligence Service immediately, who then proceed to trace those who had been in contact with the patient, and direct them to quarantine.

“Contact tracing of the affected personnel remains the most important factor for containment. The intelligence services of the armed forces and the Police, with health authorities, were tasked to conduct contact tracing into first, second and third tiers of the confirmed, suspected and exposed cases. Therefore, the quarantine process and the conduct of PCR testing were followed up as and when required. “

In the UK, on 18 May, it was revealed that applicants to become contact tracers for the NHS were told recruitment was on hold while the government considered an alternative app. The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, said: “Test, trace and isolate is fundamental to managing and controlling this virus and safely easing lockdown – yet the government’s approach has been increasingly chaotic, with misstep after misstep.” But the app is working against constraints in modern smartphones that only Google and Apple can work around, as well as arriving burdened with privacy concerns that could deter some members of the public from using it. Wide-ranging security flaws have been flagged in the Covid-19 contact-tracing app being piloted in the Isle of Wight.

Armed Forces

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa set up a ‘National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID- 19 Outbreak’ led by Army Commander Shavendra Silva.

The army, navy and air force have played a huge role in the success of Sri Lanka’s anti-Covid programme. Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency of Sri Lanka in November 2019 by a convincing majority. He is possibly the first president of Sri Lanka to have done a proper job. He was a Colonel in the Sri Lankan Army and saw action against the JVP and the Tamil Tigers. He emigrated to the USA in 1998 but returned to Sri Lanka to support his brother Mahinda’s presidential campaign in 2005. When Mahinda decided to take on the LTTE militarily, Gotabaya became his defence secretary. The LTTE were soundly beaten in 2009 and there have been no incidents since. In a fairly short time, Gotabaya Rajapaksa turned a shambolic army into an effective and reliable force for wartime or peacetime. The army that Gotabaya Rajapaksa created is, essentially, still with us although the personnel has changed. The current Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff, Shavendra Silva, played a crucial role in the ultimate victory over the LTTE. Although Sri Lanka has no external enemies (to fight by force, anyway), the Tri-Forces have proved their worth in peacetime.

The Navy handled shipments of food supplies from ports and delivered them to the public.  They also sanitized the streets and public places to prevent infection. Because navy personnel were engaged in front-line activities, they were vulnerable to infection. New cases of infection are being described as the ‘Navy cluster’.  All 35 cases reported on May 19 were sailors. Sailors were deployed to hunt down a group of drug addicts who had contact with a COVID-19 patient and were evading quarantine. Sailors at a Sri Lankan naval base became the biggest cluster of coronavirus infections with 480 being tested positive. The virus spread when sailors went on home leave. About 4,000 navy troops were quarantined while 242 relatives were taken to quarantine centers run by the navy. As of May 17, 151 naval personnel have recovered and discharged from hospitals.

Symposium

Professor Indika Karunathilake, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, chaired a discussion at Wijerama House on April 30 as part of the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health international webinar on Covid-19. Attending were Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, Director General Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe and Chief Physician at the National Infectious Diseases Institute Dr Ananda Wijewickrama discussed Sri Lanka’s unique approach to tackling the disease and made important notes on challenges ahead.

Dr Wijewickrama said. “At present, the Health Ministry’s policy is to admit all the positive cases irrespective of their symptomatology (Symptoms characteristic of a medical condition exhibited by a patient) We can do that at the moment because we only have close to 700 patients in the country. That is an incidence of about 3 per 100,000,”

Donald Trump might be interested to learn that Covid-19 positive patients in Sri Lanka are currently being treated with Hydroxychloroquine, a drug used in the successful treatment of malaria. Dr Wijewickrama said that they were aware of the controversy over the drug but had decided to use it and were “analysing the response of the patients, the physical symptoms as well as the viral clearance of the patients who were given this drug”. In three severe instances, patients were treated with convalescent plasma.

Human Rights

There are many who are worried about militarization. “Placing an army General at the helm of the campaign against the epidemic is as inane as asking a medical doctor with zero-military training to lead a war,” wrote columnist Tisaranee Gunasekara. Although many applaud the role of the navy, she thinks it was a foolish error to involve sailors and their role was mishandled when it discovered that they were the cause of most new infections.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern because Sri Lanka’s inspector general of police ordered police to arrest those who “criticize” officials involved in the coronavirus response, or share “fake” or “malicious” messages about the pandemic. HRW also put out a statement: “Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak, faces credible allegations of war crimes during the final months of Sri Lanka’s long civil war. Ethnic Tamils, Muslims, and critics of the government, who have long borne the brunt of security force abuses, will be especially concerned that their civil and political rights will not be respected.”

Note those weasel words “credible allegations”. The Darusman Panel used that phrase when disseminating inflated figures about the number of civilians killed at the end of the war. The real meaning of the words soon became lost with repetition and “credible allegations’ elided into “proven fact”. On May 19 2020, most Sri Lankans celebrated the 11th anniversary of the end of the war. In that long time, the “credible allegations” have not been proved but General Silva is banned from entering the USA.

I do not have the space here to go into all the arguments about war crimes and human rights abuses that have been circulating for a dozen years without any resolution. One can find plenty of articles dealing with this on the websites of Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph. Here are a few examples:

https://groundviews.org/2020/05/12/ramzy-razeek-an-extraordinary-struggle-for-an-ordinary-life-of-service-upended-by-an-arrest/

https://groundviews.org/2020/05/10/election-against-democracy/

https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/lanka-may-cease-to-be-a-democracy-by-june-1-if-court-does-not-resolve-constitutional-deadlock-counsel-suren-fernando/

When Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in the 2015 presidential election, the victorious coalition promised yahapalanagood governance, an end to corruption and cronyism. They did not bring any miscreants to book and perpetrated their own corruption. They introduced chronic incompetence which was symbolized by the lethal inertia with which they dealt with the Easter bombings. Even opponents of the Rajapaksas rejoice that we did not have the Yahapalana crowd dealing with the pandemic.

If you read the comments on Colombo Telegraph you might think that the overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans think the government is fascist and in the process of using the military to undermine democracy. The website is run from London and none of the commenters reveal their true identity. They could be anybody, they could be nobody. Groundviews depends for its existence on foreign funding.

Democracy

Democracy has not been doing too well lately. Trump is busy wrecking the USA and its reputation and causing unnecessary deaths after winning three million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the UK, Boris Johnson struggled to “get Brexit done” with a majority of minus 43 and now struggles to cope with a pandemic with a secure majority of 80. The authority of the Irish Cabinet is diminished by the fact that three of its members were voted out of the Dáil (parliament) in the general election on February 8 but remain in Government. It could be argued that Sinn Féin won the election, but they are being kept out of power by the two parties who normally take to turns to govern.The Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar is getting good world press for the way he is handling the crisis (and working one day a week as doctor – medical, not political science) but his party was defeated in the election. The Dáil hardly exists at present and its committees are in abeyance. The most influential body in the management of the crisis, is the NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team). Neither elected representatives nor the media have access to its meetings.

In Russia, Putin was re-elected in 2018 with nearly 80 percent of the vote and faces no serious threats to his power. He has not been having a good pandemic. According to Andrew Higgins in the New York Times, “the pandemic has only highlighted what has always been Mr Putin’s biggest vulnerability: a pronounced lack of interest or success in tackling intractable domestic problems like dilapidated hospitals, pockets of entrenched poverty and years of falling real incomes.”  Putin has been sheltering at his country villa and has not been pictured in public for nearly a month. Higgins described his Orthodox Easter message to the nation as “what, me worry?” Russia has had 1,537 deaths out of a population of 144.5 million.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election only last November by a comfortable margin. There are calls to reconvene the parliament that he dissolved on March 3 with an expectation of a parliamentary election on April 25. Because of the pandemic, the election had been postponed indefinitely. In the parliament that was elected in 2015 the UNP had 106 seats, not a clear majority. The Sri Lankan Freedom Party, which had once been powerful enough to rule the country, in the 2015 parliament was part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) which won 95 seats. The SLFP barely exists any more having been usurped by the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna – Sri Lanka People’s Front) which won a landslide victory in the much-delayed local elections in February 2018. The UNP were only able to secure 34 councils out of 340, whereas the SLPP won 231.

Many people detest Gota but many more admire him and think he is doing a good job. The following comment is probably more representative than any of the opinions expressed by the anonymous sages of Colombo Telegraph. “Our President is forging ahead in brilliance, with innovative decisions, gaining the confidence of more and more people. This is the very reason for all the Opposition bull shit every day! They have no credibility after yahapalana period!”

 

 

Sri Lanka and the Pandemic Part One

This article was published in Ceylon Today on May 21 2020.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/57086

 

One reads a lot in the western press about how badly the UK and US governments are coping with the Covid19 pandemic. One of the UK’s diplomatic strengths has long been its international advocacy for global health, and its poor domestic performance in this area may cause other nations to think again about the prestige accorded to Britain. Britain’s current failures undermine its soft power in the international arena and ‘less-developed’ nations may be even less willing to listen to British ‘advice’ on health and, indeed, other matters.

As I write (May 17), people in the UK are totally confused by the government’s latest guidance. Boris Johnson is coming under increasing criticism for the missteps he has taken in dealing with the crisis from the outset. He now has a formidable opponent in the new leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. Starmer has had a distinguished career as a human rights barrister and served five years as the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions. He brings incisive forensic skills to his questioning of inept government ministers who have never done a proper job in their lives. Johnson and his possible successor, Gove, were journalists (not very good ones). It is depressing to contemplate what a better job Starmer would be doing as prime minister, depressing to contemplate the missed opportunities, the lives needlessly lost.

Despite many difficulties, the situation in Sri Lanka is encouraging. Health Review Global did a thorough analysis and concluded: “We have studied the responses of many countries to the coronavirus pandemic. We at healthreviewglobal.com decided to select Sri Lanka for its swift and impressive response to the global epidemic despite being a second world economy. On top of it, we learned the importance of investing in public health”.

 

Lack of Recognition

 

It is surprising how little coverage there is world-wide of Sri Lanka’s battle against the virus. The London Sunday Times published an article entitled Lifting Lockdown: What Britain can learn from the rest of the world. The article draws on a report by the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. Readers are invited to: “Select any of the 109 countries tracked to see their lockdown journey.” I scrolled down the list and discovered a strange gap between Spain and Sudan. Shouldn’t Sri Lanka be in there?

 

New Zealand, which locked down before it had a single death, has seen its Blavatnik stringency score fall by nearly ten points. New Zealand and its prime minister have justly been praised for a successful approach to the crisis. New Zealand’s population is 4.88 million; there have been 21 deaths.

 

Compared with Sri Lanka

 

The Sri Lankan government deserves praise for the way it has handled the crisis. Sri Lanka reacted rapidly to early warnings while most Western countries complacently carried on as if nothing were happening. The world was put on notice on 31 December 2019, when the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported an unusual cluster of cases of pneumonia. Our president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected by a decisive majority last November, followed up his advice to people to stay at home and keep a safe social distance by imposing a curfew from Friday 20 March at 6.00 p.m.

The first Sri Lankan to be confirmed as having the virus was a 52-year-old tour guide who was dealing with Italian tourists. He was declared recovered and released from quarantine on March 26. On 28 March, the first death from the virus was announced. The victim was a 60-year-old diabetic who had had a heart transplant. As of May 17, the total number of confirmed cases is 935 and 477 patients have completely recovered so far. There have been nine deaths.

When I initially compared the total number of deaths in Sri Lanka and UK, I was told such comparisons could not be made. Some suggested that Sri Lanka might not be recording all cases or was lax in its testing procedures. The UK government is also arguing that international comparisons are odious. Odious to them, perhaps, because deaths in the UK are, at 32,065 (May 12) the worst in Europe (It’s probably nearer 55,000). The UK population is 67.83 million. The UK accounts for less than one per cent of the global population but accounts for 12 per cent of reported Covid deaths.

It is very strange that Sri Lanka is never mentioned when comparative responses to the virus are being discussed. Ireland is held up as a good example. The population of the Republic of Ireland is 4.94 million. As of 17 May, the Irish Department of Health has confirmed a total of 1,533 deaths.

What Did Sri Lanka Do Right?

 

In Part Two, I will go into more detail about the factors that have brought about Sri Lanka’s success. One of the advantages that Sri Lanka enjoys is a free healthcare system with an integrated network of state hospitals nationwide supplemented by a thriving, modern, well-equipped private system. MOH (Medical Officer of Health) geographical areas were established across the island in 1926 to provide preventive health services at a community level, through a team of medical officers, public health nurses, health inspectors and midwives.

All flights to Bandaranaike International Airport were stopped from March 19. High risk areas in the Negombo and Puttalam districts were locked down. Schools closed indefinitely. Government offices closed and working from home was encouraged.  Large gatherings were banned and the planned parliamentary election was postponed. An island-wide curfew was monitored by the police and the armed forces. To date (May 18) over 48,000 people have been arrested and will be prosecuted. Their vehicles were impounded.

Systems were set up at an early stage to facilitate the exchange of medical information. Police were involved at an early stage in tracking down people likely to have been exposed to the virus and to deal with those who were uncooperative in following government guidelines. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa set up a ‘National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID- 19 Outbreak’ led by Army Commander Shavendra Silva. The army, navy and air force have played a huge role in the success of Sri Lanka’s anti-Covid programme, helping with tracing of contacts, setting up quarantine centres, delivering food and medicine.

There are concerns from human rights advocates about the dangers to democracy of a strong president ruling through a number of task forces with the support of the military in the absence of parliament. I will deal with those issues in another article.

 

Death, Democracy and Lexical Ambiguity

A shorter version of this article was published in Ceylon Today on May 9 2020.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/56551

 

 

On a mission in Augsburg, in 1604, Sir Henry Wotton said: “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” A novel concept is an ambassador going abroad and accusing his president of lying. Is our ambassador to Russia more loyal to the president of Russia than he is to the president of Sri Lanka?

Democracy has not been doing too well lately. Trump is busy wrecking the USA and its reputation and causing unnecessary deaths after winning three million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the UK, Boris Johnson struggled to “get Brexit done” with a majority of minus 43 and now struggles to cope with a pandemic with a secure majority of 80. The authority of the Irish Cabinet is diminished by the fact that three of its members were voted out of the Dáil (parliament) in the general election on February 8 but remain in Government. The Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar is getting good world press for the way he is handling the crisis (and working one day a week as doctor – medical, not political science) but his party was defeated in the election. The Dáil hardly exists at present and its committees are in abeyance. The most influential body in the management of the crisis, is the NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team). Neither elected representatives nor the media have access to its meetings.

In Russia, Putin was re-elected in 2018 with nearly 80 percent of the vote and faces no serious threats to his power. He has not been having a good pandemic. According to Andrew Higgins in the New York Times, “the pandemic has only highlighted what has always been Mr Putin’s biggest vulnerability: a pronounced lack of interest or success in tackling intractable domestic problems like dilapidated hospitals, pockets of entrenched poverty and years of falling real incomes.”  Putin has been sheltering at his country villa and has not been pictured in public for nearly a month. Higgins described his Orthodox Easter message to the nation as “what, me worry?” Russia has had 1,537 deaths out of a population of 144.5 million.

Sri Lanka tackles the current pandemic well compared to the UK and the US and does so without a parliament. I understand the need to get back to normal for the economy as a whole and for individuals who are suffering grievously. I appreciate the risks to democracy of government by task force. I also appreciate the danger of going back to ‘normal’ too soon. Remember how ‘normal’ coped with the Easter bombings.

Dayan Jayatilleke PhD, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Russian Federation now has time on his hands  to impart some wisdom on the domestic situation in the homeland. He published an article in the Daily FT on April 23. I advise you to try to read it.

http://www.ft.lk/columns/20-June-Why-any-election-is-better-than-none/4-699112

Grasping the Main Thrust

I had to read the article several times before I could get anywhere close to grasping the main thrust. One problem is the usual epic name-dropping: “My old friend and fellow doctoral student of Immanuel Wallerstein, Prof. Jan Nederveen Pieterse of the University of California, Santa Barbara” (two name-drops for the price of one, there folks!). “My late father Mervyn de Silva, who edited the Daily News, the Times of Ceylon and the Lanka Guardian, would certainly have asked…” “I must admit that the College hosts an Annual Oration in memory of my paternal uncle Dr. A.V.K.V. de Silva, Univ of Edinburgh gold medalist, top epidemiologist and WHO program coordinator on AIDS.” What has any of this got to do with the price of fish? How many readers know or care about these names?

I have noticed a tendency with Sri Lankan columnists (and academics) to favour style  over substance. Rather than laying out a clear narrative line to help the long-suffering reader to establish what the writer wants him/her to take away from the article, he (it’s usually a he) prefers to launch a piece with rhetorical flourishes and move on with curlicues and rococo grace notes rather than setting out the Gradgrindian hard facts.

Dayan posits the case for a general election on June 20 against the arguments of “liberal critics”.  I am not sure what “liberal” means in 2020 – the word seems to have been fatally flawed by lexical ambiguity. I note that on his much-muted Facebook page, Dayan describes himself as a liberal and a Catholic rather than a Marxist. He describes himself as a politician rather than a political scientist or diplomat. He brings in “neo-liberal” at one point too. Anyway, let us judge these liberals by their arguments, which are “legalistic-constitutionalist points”. Unfortunately, he does not specify these arguments but describes them as “prissy proceduralism and legalistic literalism”.

Sinister Scenarios, Unnamed Plotters

Let’s recap. Those who are opposing an election are “legalistic”. Dayan concedes that their arguments may be true but they are irrelevant “because the real-world question is what if the Executive ignores all the ‘simply can’t do’ points they make and simply does them?” Simply can’t do what? Simply does what?

“Clearly the PM does not place himself among the ‘many [who] opine that there is no need for elections AT ALL’ (my emphasis – DJ)”. ‘Opine ‘is a favourite of Sri Lankan columnists and is rarely used anywhere else. Mahinda Rajapaksa does not want to ditch democracy, apparently. Neither does his brother. “It is not that President Gotabaya has a zero-election project or extra-constitutional preference”. Let us work up a panic anyway and create a froth of hypotheticals involving sinister scenarios created by unnamed figures from “the postwar Far Right ranks”.

Dayan graciously gives the government a (dimmed) gold star for the way it has handled the Covid19 crisis so far. This faint praise is effectively withdrawn when he compares Sri Lanka (to its detriment) with Israel and South Korea. He concedes, “There are few citizens who are not thankful that it is this administration rather than the previous one, in charge at this time. The armed forces and personnel of the State machinery as a whole are going flat out, motivated and functioning as they never would have been under the decrepit, languid, lackadaisical Ranilist UNP governmental sub-culture. “

Shifting Enthusiasms

It is difficult to keep up with Dayan’s political philosophy and allegiances. He worked with Tamil separatists and the UNP. He often describes himself as a progressive (but resists defining the term) and endlessly cites men of the left like Gramsci and Castro. To my face he praised Trump’s fascist adviser, Steve Bannon and, in writing, defended Jeremy Corbyn’s Stalinist apparatchik, Seamus Milne. He has expressed his admiration for Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn as well as the grand old mass murderers, Stalin and Mao. In the Daily FT article itself he offers the apartheid state of Israel as an exemplar (is this because Mahinda Rajapaksa has long been a supporter of the Palestinian cause?) Now I hear that he is working for his former boss’s son, Sajith Premadasa.

Sri Lanka Coping Well

How does he think Trump and Johnson are coping with Covid? What would Corbyn have done? Dayan thinks Brexit is good for Britain. He writes, “What are the ethics, values and morals of those who would put hundreds of thousands of people in harm’s way, by fudging or embellishing evidence in a severe epidemic which has dealt suffering, death and bereavement to so many around the world? “He seems to be saying that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is lying.  His heroes Trump and Johnson are widely acknowledged to be serial liars. This is a very serious charge for a fomer  ambassador to level at the government that paid  him.

I have no wish to make unwarranted boasts about the way Sri Lanka is dealing with the crisis. However, I do find it odd to see the western media saying this country or that country is doing better than Britain. True, Britain is among the worst for total incompetence and mendacity. At the time of writing, Britain’s official death toll was over 30,000, and climbing.  Ireland is held up as a good example. The population of the Republic of Ireland is 4.94 million. As of 7 May, the Irish Department of Health has confirmed 1,429 deaths. Sri Lanka’s population is 21.4 million and there have been nine deaths. There is of course the danger of complacency but let’s give ourselves a little encouragement in these dark days.

In the hope of establishing what the point of Dayan’s article was, I went to the last paragraph. The very last words were a bit of pointless name-dropping. Before that, this: “It is not that there is no political motivation as well, but that isn’t a simplistic one of pushing for a premature general election. It is a more complex two-pronged tactic, or more to the point, an ambush, a trap. The two prongs are on one flank, a snap election on unfavourable terrain for the Opposition and at a dangerous moment for the voter, and on the other, the project of zero-elections and open-ended rule by the President plus a “power cartel” “

Where does that leave us? I would advise readers to check out an article by DBS Jeyaraj who covers similar ground in simple prose without obfuscation.

http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/Politics-of-Postponing-Parliamentary-Elections-Amid-a-Pandemic/172-187187

 

 

 

 

Miliband Still Has Nothing to Teach Sri Lanka

A version of this article was published in Ceylon Today on April 28 2020. As there was some hiatus between drafting and publication, I have updated some figures.

I have been thinking about two different themes and the two have miraculously coalesced  thanks to the appearance of an article in the New Statesman by David Miliband. David Miliband is currently the president of the International Rescue Committee. He was UK foreign secretary from 2007 until 2010. The article is called “The four contests that will shape the post-Covid-19 world”.

Miliband writes: “Here the free world needs to make its stand – in the name of morality, but also efficiency. The point is not just that democratic government is not worth trading off for state capacity to handle crisis. It is that democratic government can help state capacity rather than reduce it. There are democracies that are handling the crisis well – South Korea and Germany come to mind – and democracies handling it badly, led by the US. And there are authoritarian states handling it poorly – Iran, for example – and less than fully democratic states coping well (Singapore).”

That then, is one of the themes I have been thinking about. It is helpful to have the benefit of Miliband’s wisdom on the current pandemic.

The other theme in which I have been interested is the reaction of the “international community” to Sri Lanka’s quite astounding success in defeating the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in May 2009. Historian Michael Roberts is still, eleven years on, doggedly trying to get a fair hearing for his motherland. Every day, he disseminates material that he has found, and engages in debate with a huge variety of people. He seems undaunted by the, sometimes vile, abuse his writings attract on Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph. In order to assist myself in finding a clear narrative thread through this mass of material, I consulted a book by a British military historian, Professor Paul Moorcraft, Director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis who has also worked for the British defence establishment. His book on the Sri Lankan conflict, Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers, was published by Pen and Sword in 2013. Moorcraft visited Sri Lanka and interviewed Prabhakaran, KP, Karuna, members of the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Rajapaksas.

David Miliband makes an appearance in Moorcraft’s book. Much of what Moorcraft writes supports Michael Roberts’s argument that the Tigers’ desperate strategy was to sacrifice their own people in order to persuade the “international community” to force a cease-fire and rescue the LTTE leadership to fight another day. The Rajapaksas were having none of this. The war had dragged on for nearly 30 years wrecking the economy and wasting countless lives. Government forces had often been on the verge of victory only to be stymied by foreign interference. Western governments could not grasp that the LTTE did not do compromise and negotiation. The only solution was a military one.

David Miliband made a one-day visit to Sri Lanka in April 2009 and demanded that the fighting stop. He ruffled some feathers by acting like a colonial governor. The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, came as well but was more civil than Miliband. Moorcraft writes: “Gotabaya Rajapaksa was blunt in his meeting with them: he said the fighting would go on until Prabhakaran was dead or captured. The Defence Secretary explained that over 200,000 civilians had been freed from LTTE captivity. The Sri Lankans found Miliband ‘rude and aggressive’, especially when he complained that army shelling was killing civilians. Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the British minister that he should not believe Tamil propaganda. According to the Sri Lankans present, Kouchner tried to cool tempers and calm down his more volatile British companion.”

The rest is history. The Tigers were defeated and they have not been a problem for eleven years. The army that Gotabaya Rajapaksa created is, essentially, still with us although the personnel has changed. The current Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff played a crucial role in the ultimate victory. Although Sri Lanka has no external enemies (to fight by force, anyway), the Tri-Forces have proved their worth in peacetime. Before the Rajapaksas decided to take on the Tigers militarily, Sri Lanka had an essentially ceremonial army of only 11,000, partly because civilian governments feared a repetition of the aborted coup of 1962. In a fairly short time, Gotabaya Rajapaksa turned a shambolic outfit into an effective and reliable force for wartime or peacetime. This would not be the case if Sri Lanka had done Miliband’s bidding in 2009.

Today, Sri Lanka seems to be making a success of dealing with the pandemic. The president mobilised the medical services and enlisted the armed forces to make a major contribution. The president has recognised that the media have a role to play in keeping the public informed. The previous Rajapaksa regime did not always have a happy relationship with the media and wasted a lot of money on useless PR firms.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa  won a convincing majority in the presidential election last November but is now ruling without a parliament. The opposition is in disarray. This is the first time that we have a president who actually had a proper job outside politics. It is a long time since the UK had any leaders who had done a proper job. Some people in Sri Lanka are concerned about democracy. Democracy seems to be ineffective in the USA and the UK.

The Insight team of the London Sunday Times (normally a paper that supports Conservative governments) published an astonishingly damning report showing how the UK government has been totally incompetent at dealing with the pandemic. In pursuit of Brexit, Boris Johnson had cleared out all the senior politicians who had experience and capability and replaced them with nonentities and air-heads. The prime minister himself did not present an impression of consistency and competence and was absent much of the time. An anonymous adviser said: “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there. And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.” He missed five of the COBRA meetings which are vital in a crisis like this. He seemed to be distracted by events in his private life – his wife was divorcing him; his girlfriend was pregnant.

Miliband writes: “The holes in national and global safety nets are integral to the devastation of the disease.” Successive UK governments, including Labour, have undermined the safety nets. An incompetent government is reaping the rewards of public spending cuts, Brexit, privatisation, outsourcing, selling assets to foreigners, deregulation of finance.  The latest death figures for the UK are  21,092. Sri Lanka’s figure is still seven. Eleven years on, David Miliband still has nothing to teach us.

 

Foxy Liam

According to a website called vipfaq, (“the latest news, scandals, facts and gossip on your favourite celebrities!”) they did not have any facts about Liam Fox’s sexual orientation, but claimed to have done a poll in which 0 per cent thought he was straight. Fox’s voting record in Parliament is generally against gay rights, and he voted against same-sex marriage. Vipfaq says: “Supposedly, Liam Fox has been having a busy year in 2018. However, we do not have any detailed information on what Liam Fox is doing these days. Maybe you know more. Feel free to add the latest news and gossip. According to our best knowledge, Liam Fox is still alive. We are not aware of any death rumours.”

Vipfaq is probably a spoof, but many people are indeed wondering what Liam Fox is doing these days, as Britain teeters towards Brexit. He has been cruelly called the “most pointless minister in the Government.” He is supposed to be Secretary of State for International Trade in charge of finding trading partners for the UK post-EU. He does not seem to have found any so far.

Marina Hyde described Fox as “an expert in the self-inflicted wound.” In the 2009 expenses scandal, Fox was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses and was forced to repay the most money.

In 2010, he resigned as Defence Secretary, over allegations that he had given a close friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the Ministry of Defence, and allowed him to join official trips overseas.  Fox and Werritty lived together in a flat near Tower Bridge, before Fox married Jesme Baird in 2005.

Fox has long been a friend of Sri Lanka, as has Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party. Paisley was suspended from Parliament and the DUP for taking bribes from the Rajapaksa Government. Fox seems to have got away with similar crimes, although he is no stranger to controversy. Fox had first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1995, as a Junior Foreign Office Minister.

In Singapore in 2007, Fox, by then Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, had a chance meeting with Rajapaksa’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. Towards the end of the war with the LTTE, Fox, who was seen in the capital Colombo as a possible future Tory leader, became an influential messenger boy, even for Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Fox behaved recklessly, by taking Werritty with him to countless Ministry of Defence meetings, and allowing his friend to hand out business cards, describing himself as a special adviser to the ministry. Ursula Brennan (who I remember as a formidable person), Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, chastised Fox for this. Fox was forced to resign in 2011, after it emerged that he and Werritty, had been given free holidays in Sri Lanka, in return for saying nice things about the Rajapaksa Government. Fox and Werritty stayed in five-star hotels and enjoyed first-class travel.


Back in government

Fox is back in government with a leading role in implementing Brexit, as Secretary of State for International Trade. This has resulted in him being taken less seriously than ever. No wonder Brexit is a mess.

On 9 March 2018, Arab News reported that “British Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox said that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 can build strongly on what is already a strong alliance with Britain. UK and KSA have agreed landmark ambition for around £ 65 billion of mutual trade and investment opportunities. Both kingdoms are transforming their economic prospects and roles in the world.”

This was before Saudi Arabia revealed how it was transforming its role in the world, by bombing school buses in Yemen with British arms, and chopping up a Washington Post journalist.

On 18 April 2018, Fox told Sri Lanka’s President Sirisena that steps would be taken to include new investment opportunities in Sri Lanka on the website of the UK’s Ministry of International Trade. Joy was unconfined. It is such an honour to be on Liam’s website.

In June 2018, Open Democracy reported that Fox was again having difficulty seeing the line that should be drawn between adviser and privately-backed lobbyist. Shanker Singham is a member of Fox’s ‘committee of experts.’

Singham is also a Director of the International Trade and Competition Unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a position he took after he left the controversial think tank Legatum earlier this year. Tamasin Cave from Spinwatch, which monitors the lobbying industry, said: “Singham is simultaneously advising Liam Fox, and has unrivalled access to many other ministers, while at the same time working for a firm that is paid to influence the decisions of ministers. That’s a glaring conflict of interest.”

Scottish National Party MP Neil Gray said: “There has been an effective sub-contracting of the hard thinking normally undertaken by government to a series of ‘think tanks,’ who refuse to reveal where their funding comes from and whose proposals seem coincidentally to reflect the narrow interests of a small group of private companies.

Marina Hyde again: “Brexit has performed a questionable alchemy, allowing various of the politically undead to lumber out of the where-are-they-now files, all the way back into key operational positions.” Britain is paying the price for their resurrection.

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