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Polluting Governance

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“The Nazi leaders….treated Germany like a conquered land, a colony to be used and abused without consideration, to be exploited to the full, and its national spirit, happiness and wellbeing to be sedulously ignored”.
Sebastian Haffner (Germany: Jekyll & Hyde)

( January 2, 2013- Colombo –Sri Lanka Guardian) Every year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) releases a chart with the sulphur content in the fuel used by different countries. Until 2012, the sulphur content in the diesel used in Sri Lanka was a constant 500ppm (parts per million) . In 2013, the sulphur content in Lankan diesel shot up astronomically, beyond 2000ppm. Thanks to his colossal increase (more than 300%) in just one year, our island-home has joined the category of global-worsts - countries with highest levels of sulphur in their fuel .

Currently the internationally approved sulphur content in fuel 50ppm; in 2004 the Ministry of Environment issued a circular stating that sulphur content in our diesel should not exceed 400ppm. Instead of reaching this approved level, Sri Lanka exceeded it by 1,600ppm in just 12 months.

Sulphur in fuels is harmful not just to living beings and the environment but also to buildings and vehicles. According to a 2008 UNEP study, people with asthma, children, the elderly and people with lung/heart problems are particularly vulnerable to emissions from high-sulphur fuels. In addition they are carcinogenic and impair visibility. Their environmental impacts include acid rain, forest and crop damages and the acidification of soils. They also accelerate the decay of building materials and decrease vehicle efficiency and durability .

So in 2013, probably for pecuniary reasons, the regime switched to importing highly contaminated and extremely unhealthy diesel. The regime also increased diesel prices in 2013. Consequently in 2013, Lankans paid more buy extremely toxic diesel.

In an even bizarre turn, the CPC announced that from April 2014, it will switch from diesel with a sulphur content of 2000ppm to diesel with a sulphur content of 500ppm – i.e. the restoration of status quo ante . If this actually happens (that is far from certain given the ever growing gulf between the Rajapaksa rhetoric and reality), the regime will use it to boast about its total commitment to clean energy. No mention will be made about how in just one year the Rajapaksas ensured that Sri Lanka belongs in the category of countries which use the most contaminated fuel in the world.

Toxic air is something which affects everyone, irrespective ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status. The sudden mountainous hike in the sulphur content in our diesel in just one year is a matter of utmost concern to all Lankans. It is also an evocative indicator of how criminally blasé the Rajapaksas are about the health and wellbeing of all Sri Lankans including their core-constituency of rural and sub-urban Sinhala Buddhists.

Why did the Rajapaksas switch from moderately contaminated diesel to highly contaminated diesel in 2013? Did this poisonous switch receive cabinet approval? Was the cabinet aware of what it was approving? Who benefited from this switch? These are some of the questions the opposition must ask in parliament. After all, this is a national issue of great import which deserves a national debate, which is serious and informed.

Sri Lanka reached another summit in 2012/2013, in the use of agro-chemicals: “Sri Lanka is the highest user of agro-chemicals in the world” according to Prof. Shanthi Mendis, Non-communicable Diseases Director of the WHO . Quoting a WHO/UN internal report December 2013, The Island reveals that Sri Lanka leads the world in overall agrochemical usage in 2012/2013 (471 units per hectare). Sri Lanka is also the world’s first in the use of pesticides: 187 units per hectare. We are currently in the 8th place in fertilizer usage at 284 units per hectare. According to Dr. Navin de Soysa, General Committee member of the GMOA, “The GMOA had learnt from a reliable source that some officials employed in the Agricultural Ministry were also doing part-time jobs in agro-chemical importing companies” .

Are the authorities aware of this toxic situation? Are their any connections between powers-that-be and agro-chemical importing companies (especially financial connections)? The WHO has already identified high use of low quality agro-chemicals as the most important reason for the kidney failure epidemic which is ravaging our agricultural heartland. What steps is the regime taking to deal with this growing crisis? What is the Opposition doing either to pressurise the government into mitigating the crisis or to make the people aware about the regime’s failure?

From contaminated diesel and contaminated food to contaminated water; according to the Daily Mirror, the calcium hypochlorite (Lime) used to treat drinking water is of low quality. The report quotes an anonymous ‘senior technical source’ at the Ambatale water purification plant: “The minimum level of Calcium Carbonate is 80% for the full purification of water but we have detected that the level of the stock of Lime supplied recently had only 76% of Calcium Carbonate which means it is possible that the water may not have been purified to the accepted level” . The Additional Manage of the Water Supply Project admitted that one consignment of 500 metric tons of Lime (imported from China) was ‘greenish instead of pure white and the concentration of calcium carbonate in this particular stock was only 76%’ but insisted that the questionable stock was not distributed.

Was he telling the truth? Or is this another cover-up? Given the number of consumers who may have been affected, shouldn’t the opposition take up this issue, in and out of parliament?

Polluting the environment seems a Rajapaksa forte. But the only reason they get away with it is because we the people allow them to do so. The opposition is at fault for allowing most of these issues to drop out of public eye; but so is the public. After all, when the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink are contaminated, our health and wellbeing are directly affected. These are not esoteric concerns but matters which are of vital importance to us.

So why are we remaining silent and inactive?

Polluting Minds

he issue was not the support for war; war was unavoidable because of the nature of the LTTE. If the Tigers did not want a new war they would not have engineered the defeat of the appeasing Ranil Wickremesinghe. The war was unavoidable and a Tiger victory would have been disastrous even from the point of Tamil democracy. What was unnecessary and dangerous was the acceptance of the official myths about the war – that it was not a war which killed innocent people but a humanitarian operation which killed Tigers only. This ‘logic’ not only denied civilian casualties; it also turned the dead civilians into Tigers and made any critic of the war or its results a Tiger supporter.

By accepting the humanitarian operation lie we justified every action of the Lankan Forces by bestowing on them, ipso facto, a cloak of infallibility. That lie was to extend beyond the war and become the psychological premise of the internment camp masquerading as welfare villages.

A mindset is being fostered, or perhaps regenerated, of equating the necessary but unfortunate war into a holy enterprise. In this version there is no difference between Tigers and Tamil nationalists, between Tiger propaganda and Tamil grievances. It is as if history began in 1983 with the LTTE attack on Four Four Bravo, skipping Black July and any other atrocity committed by the Lankan Forces and ending with the death of Pirapaharan on the shore of the Sea of Conches.

Today this broad, inclusive, progressive nationalism in on the decline; what is in ascendance is a religious nationalism in which religion as well as race/country of origin is a determinant factor in deciding one’s nationality. In some cases the religious identity may be more important, in which case a religious other may be as much of an or more of an alien than the racial other.

The aim of this religious revival is the total defeat of the progressive currents which led to the Enlightenment and its child, the French Revolution and all that the world inherited from these. Just as post-socialism economics seeks to remake the world through a fundamental change in the relationship between capital and labour/society, a reproduction of the relations of production more like what prevailed during the pre-socialist capitalism; post-socialist politics – or at least a powerful trend within it – seeks to take the world back to the pre-Enlightenment times, where religious liberty was synonymous with every liberty for one’s own religion and none for the others.

In 2007, the President Rajapaksa personally invited 11 international experts to form the IIGEP (International Independent Group of Eminent Persons) to assist the national Commission of Inquiry to look into 16 incidents of serious human rights violations including the Mutur massacre. In 2008 the IIGEP was literally hounded out of the country by baying Rajapaksa acolytes. In its final report, the IIGEP spoke of the “atmosphere of confrontation and disagreement…engendered by the organs of Government” .
Weliweriya killing; refusal to implement the more meaningful recommendations of the LLRC. If we continue along that path, if human rights violations continue to occur, then we will find ourselves in the company of the LTTE, marginalised and scorned.

Avalanches begin with a few ordinary snowballs. In Sri Lanka those first few snowballs, presaging a future avalanche, came early in the Fourth Eelam War.

Given the nature of Rajapaksa rule, there is very little even the most outstandingly able foreign minister could have done to prevent a yet another debacle in Geneva.

History never forgives cupidity. Moderation is wise; maximalism is not. It always makes sense for a majority to err on the side of generosity in its treatment of the minorities. Failure to do so could result in far greater losses than would have been incurred as part of an initial compromise.

In the US many veterans in the military campaign in Vietnam got increasingly involved in crime and related issues and the pattern is somewhat the same here. This has to be understood and the matter treated accordingly. After all, the men and women who joined the military ranks and were forced to fight, sometimes in the most barbaric conditions, did not start the war themselves.

Impunity born in the North is now a national issue. Its repercussions are evident not just in political acts such as the Weliweriya shooting or in the proliferation of acts of torture and extra-judicial killings by the police in very Sinhala-Buddhist areas, but also in the growing number of non-political crimes committed by serving and former combatants against ordinary citizens. “Most of the soldiers who were sent to the frontline during the height of the fighting….came from humble village homes and after being part of the military campaign they returned home as hardened men who had lost all fear” . According to former DIG Nimal Mediwaka, “It is these individuals who maintain a mindset that they can do anything and get away without being apprehended….”

The culture of impunity was created and is being maintained by the regime.

About 25 organisations under the defence ministry

Daily Mirror – 23.12.2013
The Sunday Times – 1.12.2013