While Sri Lankans have welcomed 2018 with much hopes, the Daily Mirror spoke to experts in various fields, including areas such as politics, economics, law, health, education and environment, to find out what realities lie ahead during the new year.
“Sri Lanka shouldn’t compromise on the value of its eco systems”
Adding his comments with regard to the environmental sector, Environmental Lawyer Jagath Gunawardene said that whenever there is a problem pertaining to the environment, the issue has been addressed immediately. Also, he said that currently he is focusing on biodiversity related issues.
Commenting on what needs to be done for environmental conservation in Sri Lanka, he had the following to share with the Daily Mirror.
Meanwhile,, there are certain development schemes that have been proposed which would compromise on the integrity of certain ecosystems which needs to be prevented
“When you make an assessment of the past year, one may observe certain successes as well as failures. We have succeeded in bringing regulations pertaining to the use of polythene, but have failed in terms of asbestos where the ban on it has been revoked. So we want a stronger country, which can withstand the pressures put by other countries who have their own vested interests. So that is one area I expect the country to be stronger. Also, it is important for the country to be aware of its own vulnerabilities, not only in the environmental sector, but in a much broader scale. However, since some vulnerabilities end up as environmental issues, we should know where our vulnerabilities lie and how to overcome them,” he said.
Secondly, Gunawardene added that as a country, Sri Lanka has been successful in getting certain areas declared as protected while opining that there are so many other areas that needs to be protected likewise. “Meanwhile, there are certain development schemes that have been proposed which would compromise on the integrity of certain ecosystems which needs to be prevented. We should take remedial action when and where necessary and prevent such unwanted activities from taking place under the guise of development; that is destroying or compromising on the value of our eco systems. That’s one of the areas that we have been currently working on and this might continue into the future” he added.
When inquired about the laws that need to be reformed or renewed in the environmental sector, Gunawardene added that it was a long process. “Currently the Environment Act is in the process of being revamped for the past several years and so is the Forest Conservation Ordinance and the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. We need to wait and see how things would progress into the future. More than amending the laws, I believe that we need to have regulations. There is a need for two more new Acts which are pending for too long. These are; the proposed Act on Biosafety and proposed Act on controlling alien organisms. These are the things we expect to happen in the near future,” he said.
“I hope treatment will be offered at a low cost or no cost” - Dr. Wijewickrema
Speaking to the , Consultant Physician of the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) Dr. Ananda Wijewickrema opined that he expects the health sector would further improve its standards in order to offer a good service to the public. Adding his New Year wish for 2018, he said that he expected the prevalence of diseases to be low this year. “I hope that those in need of treatment would have the opportunity to receive it at a low cost or no cost. I also wish that the people will be healthy. At present there are many plans underway in the health sector. While some plans are already being implemented and are progressing, some are still in the listing. These plans will be useful for the betterment of the health sector. There are many development plans in the health sector in terms of the infrastructure, improving of facilities, staff training and etc,” Dr. Wijewickrema said.
There are many development plans in the health sector in terms of the infrastructure, improving of facilities, staff training and etc
When inquired about the progress of the dengue vaccine, he said that currently a group of consultants had been appointed to look into the matter. “A group of experts has been appointed to make recommendations regarding the dengue vaccine on whether to use the vaccine in Sri Lanka. However, the committee decided to wait for more evidence to emerge; a decision that was taken about four months ago. And we are glad that we made that decision with new evidence surfacing recently,” he added. These evidences will be taken into account prior to arriving at a final conclusion,” he said.
“Procedural and institutional reform needed to overcome backlog of cases”
- Palitha Fernando, PC
One of the major issues confronting the judicial system of this country is the severe backlog of cases. This applies to both civil and criminal cases. A civil case takes a long time before it is taken up for hearing. If all those formalities are attended to by a roll court specially established for that purpose and the cases are taken up only when they are ready for hearing as in some other countries, the hearing of cases could be expedited to a very high degree. Experts in the area of Civil law should be consulted in cutting short the procedural aspects to ensure the expeditious disposal of cases.
There is no use pressurizing judicial officers to expedite disposal when they have a heavy load of cases. That would not serve the interests of justice. Deciding upon the rights of the people is not an easy task. You cannot rush through cases. Getting judicial officers to sit till 4.00 p.m and getting them to hear cases is counterproductive. It is humanly impossible to concentrate and hear complicated legal issues when you are exhausted. A judge needs to do research, consider the evidence he has heard and write the judgment with a lot of care. I do not think the judges of today work in such an environment. Increasing the number of judges is one of the most important steps that should be taken immediately.
Judges and officers of the Attorney General’s Department are very badly under paid. But increasing their salaries isn’t the solution. None of them have delayed work because they are underpaid. Even if their salaries are increased they will not be able to do better than what they are doing now as they are stretched to capacity and it is humanly impossible to do more.
If the judges are to concentrate upon the backlog of cases, then the new cases would get stagnated. As I have suggested even before, it would be appropriate to appoint retired judges on contract basis for a period of one year and set them a target to conclude a reasonable number of cases. I would even suggest to have a system where a judge sits from 9.30 a.m to 1.30 p.m with a break of 20 minutes as we did during those days and for a retired judge to sit from 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m to conclude the backlog. We need to obtain the services of a different staff comprising workers like stenographers to sit with the retired judge. I know of judges who sat till 6.30 p.m. thinking that they were giving their best. But the poor court staff were extremely unhappy and worked under tremendous pressure. A person must be happy at work. It is only then that he would offer his maximum.
There is no use pressurizing judicial officers to expedite disposal when they have a heavy load of cases. That would not serve the interests of justice. Deciding upon the rights of the people is not an easy task
The situation in criminal cases is disastrous to say the least. People are punished for offences committed by them, over 15 years ago. By the present time some of them have rehabilitated themselves completely. The judicial system awakens after a deep slumber and destroys their lives and that of their families totally. Though we do not see this it is a great social problem today. Children are made to suffer due to no fault of theirs. They suddenly find their father missing at home. We need to conclude criminal cases as expeditiously as possible. I designed a scheme for the early disposal of cases related to child abuse. The scheme was funded by UNICEF. The Sri Lankan rep having read the report regarding my scheme said that if the scheme is successful it would be presented with a world award. However, to my utter disappointment it never got off ground.
I would recommend that we reduce the number of cases in each court house. After the 13th amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka we have two High Courts. The High Court of Sri Lanka and the High Court of the Provinces. Both functions are performed by the same court. This I think should stop as early as possible. A criminal trial court should hear only criminal trials. Bail applications calling matters and any other matter should go before a separate court.
“Forthcoming LG Elections a milestone for the country” - Purasinghe
“After the establishment of the present Government back in 2015, it is praiseworthy that democratic traditions are gradually being reset in the country. There is freedom to politically criticize any person or any party. We can have hopes that the forthcoming Local Government Elections will be held fairly and transparently, said Terrance Purasinghe Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Sri Jayawardanapura University.
What makes all of us wonder about is the much confused and complicated political situation prevailing in the country. The main political forces the UNP and the SLFP that have joined hands in the unity Government are having contradictory agendas, views and opinions. When the UNP suggests abolishing the executive presidency, the SLFP wants it to remain. This kind of situation poses a question on the stability of this Government as there is no consensus between the two political parties.
At this rate, it can be predicted that the UNP will smoothly win and have the ability to consolidate power of a majority of the LG bodies.
One of the the major obstacles the Government is confronting is uncontrollable and unhealthy party politics. When making nationally important decisions the Cabinet of ministers, comprising both UNP and SLFP members, act in a bias manner to suit the agendas of their own political parties. This is not healthy for the common good of the country. This clearly showcases the immaturity of the Sri Lankan political system. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have failed to maintain a single consensus among the cabinet of ministers.
However, the forthcoming Local Government Elections will be a milestone for the country. As a result of the split in the SLFP, undoubtedly the benefit goes to the UNP. The vote base of the UNP is certain and unshakable.
If someone says that the Central Bank Bond issue, where names of several UNP ministers were mentioned, would be an issue for the UNP to secure more votes, I don’t think so. People in rural areas are not really concerned about this bond issue. It is the urban middle class people who are concerned about the bond issue. What the people in rural areas care about is their welfare.
At this rate, it can be predicted that the UNP will smoothly win and have the ability to consolidate power of a majority of the LG bodies. If the UNP gains power in the majority of LG bodies, President Sirisena will be compelled to face a very decisive situation where he will have to decide with whom he should be politically united thereafter. I think Maithripala Sirisena’s political future will be a success only if he continues the accord with the UNP.
The practice of the Joint Opposition members in spreading racism and separatism among the people can’t be accepted. The unwavering efforts of the Joint Opposition will be futile because the SLFP Maithri fraction is much stronger than the JO members. If the split in the SLFP continues or worsens, the benefit at the next Presidential Elections goes to nobody else, but the Prime Minister and UNP Leader Ranil Wickeremesinghe.
Razor sharp thinking needed
In areas like education, nature and economy
“We need one clean, educated and honest Government” - Dr. Senanayake
In his comments, Chairman of Rainforest Rescue International and Systems ecologist Dr. Ranil Senanayake said he believes that the biggest perpetrators are those in the Government. “As professionals they are a set of ill-educated and irresponsible politicians who should be responsible for this situation. Therefore they don’t understand the long term repercussions. One of the major issues was giving away lands from the elephant corridors,”said Dr. Senanayake.
The year 2017 was not good for elephants. With the inhumane killing of the Galgamuwa cross-tusker and the gradual deaths of several other elephants, the Subject Minister proposed the use of GPS collars to track elephants. While many wildlife experts disagreed with this move, a practical solution to the save remaining tuskers and elephants in the wild is yet to be proposed. Speaking with regards to using collars, Dr. Senanayake further said that collaring is not a practical solution.
Issues pertaining to wildlife should be taken as part of the national development plan
“Issues pertaining to wildlife should be taken as part of the national development plan. We need to have one clean, educated and honest Government in moving forward. Until we have an intelligent bunch of politicians these issues will aggravate in time to come,”he said.
“Education Reforms Introduced sans analysis of root cause” – Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
Asked about anticipated changes in the education sector in 2018, Former President of the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA), Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri said while there were a number of measures undertaken by the Government to reform education, they are likely to result in futility.
“The Government has introduced various reforms in education, but personally I don’t see these measures serving any purpose. For instance, they introduced the “Langama Pasala, Hondama Pasala” (Nearest School is the Best School) concept. This concept has been introduced without analysis of the root cause. One has to admit that certain schools may receive some benefits through this project. But this is not a suitable solution to the overall concerns,” Dr. Dewasiri said.
Authorities are deliberating reducing the number of subjects offered at the O/L exam to six subjects
The Government introduced the programme in 2016, after identifying development of all schools as a priority need. This was also done with the objective of providing equal educational opportunities to all children. However according to Dr. Dewasiri, this is not the optimum solution to the issue of admitting students to popular schools in urban areas. “The issues arise as a result of the race to admit children to popular schools in urban areas. It is a problem born out of competition and this project will not address it. The pressure encountered in performing during the O/L and A/L examinations too weighs in on this problem. Therefore this is a far more complex matter that can’t be addressed with a simple policy. This solution will not have any impact on rivalry and competition among students,” he said.
The former president of FUTA opined that during a recent meeting held to discuss the education policy framework, this subject was extensively discussed. Many experts had opined that this effort will not solve persistent issues in education. Experts present at the meeting believed that the approach to solve the issues was itself erroneous, as they had not understood the subject.
“Authorities are deliberating reducing the number of subjects offered at the O/L exam to six subjects. What they don’t understand is such a move will not decrease the pressure or the competition among students. The change of subjects too will have no impact. The system of examination needs to change,” he stressed.
“The entire education system is full of issues. Unfortunately those in the offices of the World Bank have a hand in the formulation of these policies, as they seem to be more knowledgeable on these issues than local experts,” he added.
In December Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe instructed Vice-Chancellors of all Universities to upgrade the quality of higher education instead of prioritizing construction of university buildings. Responding to this statement Dr. Dewasiri said it was easy for politicians to make such statements.
“What are the indicators to measure the quality of education?” he countered. “The quality of education in universities is dependent on many other areas. The primary and secondary education must be of good quality. First of all issues in the secondary education system must be resolved, before we can attempt to better the quality of education in universities,” Dr. Dewasiri said.
“Slowing down of growth a major challenge”
- Prof. Abeyratne
The Sri Lankan economy has faced various fluctuations during the previous year. “While many industries are contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it’s crucial that Sri Lanka has a stable economy in moving forward,” said Professor of Economics at University of Colombo Sirimal Abeyratne.
Prof. Abeyratne added that when reviewing last year there was a slowing down of growth. “This situation has been present for a few years. This slow down is mostly in the tradable sector including the export growth. This is a major challenge. Other macro problems such as interest, inflation and the exchange rate are accelerating growth. Particularly accelerating growth in the tradable sector should be the policy focus this year,”he underscored.
While many industries are contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it’s crucial that Sri Lanka has a stable economy in moving forward
When asked how each sector could contribute to the GDP, Prof. Abeyratne said that the Government can promote any sector. “When the right environment is provided the investors will find the right sector,”he opined.