By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
Your opponents and numerous self-appointed experts have been repeatedly and unfairly critical, but you and your government deserve plaudits for the steps taken to control the COVID-19 epidemic. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, many lapses could be found but that is the case for all countries. Maybe, more widespread testing should have been done, as some demanded, but at a time of a financial emergency complicating a medical emergency, common sense has to prevail, as happened. Though there were lapses in the vaccination campaign, overall, it has been a success as shown by the gradual decline in the number of cases and deaths. Sri Lanka needs to follow the example of the UK and open the country as the trends in Sri Lanka are following that of the UK, with a delay of around four weeks. The UK has been open for several weeks despite having an average of over 30,000 cases diagnosed daily with around 120 daily deaths.
Examining the opinions expressed in the columns of this newspaper, it becomes apparent that even some who should know, have got facts mixed up. Unlike smallpox and rabies vaccinations, COVID-19 vaccination was never intended to eradicate the disease but to control the pandemic to prevent overwhelming health care systems. The simple reason for this is the craftiness of the Coronaviruses which have the ability to mutate. That is why most elderly in the West need an annual flu jab, influenza being a disease caused by another group of Coronaviruses.
Unfortunately, the performance of your government in other matters raises multiple issues. There is no doubt, unscrupulous heartless individuals, around the world, who thrive on the misery of others, have made a killing during the pandemic, Sri Lanka being no exception. However, what is of concern is that politicians in power seem to be attempting to make a fast buck in everything. When Yahapalanaya came to power, the expectation was that corruption would be reversed but it never happened. The voters rejected them with an astounding majority hoping the Pohottuwa government would be different. Mr President! I am sure you are well aware that even the staunchest supporters of yours are despondent because this never happened. As I have stated, ad nauseum, every government in Sri Lanka seems to be more corrupt than the previous, including Pohottuwa.
No one seems to follow your example. It was recently reported that you took to task your security staff for having closed roads for a visit of yours, against your instructions. When they investigated, they found the roads were closed not for you but a minister! Considering your tough image, the expectation was that action would be taken against this minister but nothing seems to have happened. Indiscipline is rife but you do not seem to be using the powers invested by 20A. You attended the UN General Assembly, which served a very useful purpose, but with a tiny delegation. Your wife accompanied you at her own expense. However, your Aiya attended a conference in Italy, which he could have easily participated via a Zoom link, accompanied by his wife, presumably at government expense. Further, it led to accusations by the Catholic Church that an attempt was made to usurp the authority of the Cardinal. Though the public would be prepared to excuse him considering the yeoman’s service he rendered for the country, better sense should have prevailed at a difficult time like this.
I am sure Mr President; you have great difficulty manoeuvring your way around your Malli. True, he is very clever and you could not have been President without him. After all, Pohottuwa becoming such a powerful force in such a short time is mostly due to his efforts. But, sad to say, some of his actions are destroying Pohottuwa. It is pretty obvious that barring dual-citizenship holders from holding high office was dropped from 20A to accommodate him. He spent a month in the USA, whilst his acolytes were singing his praises, and entered parliament on return, to snatch the Finance Ministry from Loku Aiya! All the wonders predicted by his supporters did not materialise, so much so that cartoonists now caricature him as the Aladdin with a powerless lamp! Perhaps, that is not quite true as the lamp worked for a US energy firm with a midnight deal!
I am not going to comment on that energy deal, as I do not know the details. Perhaps, contrary to what some critics state, it may be a good deal in the long term. But what cannot be denied is that the way it was done leaves ample room for suspicion. If the stake any ministry holds is to be sold off, for the benefit of the country, surely it should be done after competitive tendering, which is the accepted norm. A midnight deal done with a US firm, by a minister who holds US citizenship as well, smells a rat; doesn’t it Mr President? If the next president is a dual-citizen of the US, what guarantee is there that he will not ‘sell’ the country to the USA?
Unfortunately, the mini-reshuffle of the cabinet turned out to be a ‘puss wedilla’ than an opportunity to re-energise the government. A pot-dropping, peni-drinking Minister of Health was replaced by a Minister who wanted to hand over problems to gods! The lack of insight of our politicians was well demonstrated by the actions of the ex-Health Minister who expressed surprise at her removal. The man behind the pots, who claimed to have divine powers that could control the pandemic even in India, succumbing to COVID-19 is ironic, though sad. Some say the slap is on the face of the person who elevated a charlatan, who had no training in medicine whatsoever, to the position of the President’s physician. In ‘the Land like no other’ any fool can be a doctor!
An ex-President, who was found culpable by the commission he himself appointed, is not made to face justice. His brother, who threw a challenge to the government on this, continues to be successful, the government giving in to his rice-mafia as well!
Present problems are not limited to Sri Lanka. We have huge problems in the UK too. Our gas and electricity bills are sky-rocketing and many small energy firms have gone bust. We are anxiously waiting for our daughter to visit us but she cannot, as petrol stations in her area have run dry. Today, I went to my local Sainsbury’s to buy parippu but shelves were empty!
Mr President, I am writing on behalf of many people who pinned hopes on you and feel let down. It is not too late even now. Please, forget about the two-thirds majority and be tough with your lot. Even if some leave, you would have a majority. You have the powers and it is high time you used them. Otherwise, I do not know where we would end!