Economic Collapse and aborting the Natural Death of our Corrupt Rulers
The Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe declared yesterday (22.06.2022) that the country’s economy has “completely collapsed”~ (The Guardian).
Sri Lanka will keep sinking until we have political reform and a government free of the corrupt to whom any and all aid will be an opportunity to steal more. With the same corrupt thugs and murderers running our lives for years while enjoying impunity, I do not think the IMF or India will or should rush to support us. To do so prior to the President and our 225 MPs going away, is to give our thieves and killers in government the opportunity to escape accountability. Besides, it would be like a blood transfusion to a corpse as my student Prof. Roshan Ragel put it some 20 years ago. The IMF and India must not sustain our corrupt government for geopolitical reasons in the name of helping us. It is through the death of this horrid government that a responsible, democratic and accountable government can emerge. That death which was about to happen on 9 May, was postponed with the credit facilities extended to Sri Lanka, particularly by India and the World Bank. The Rajapaksas seem to be back in business and inside the cabinet through their agents.
While we speak of a dollar shortage which leads to energy shortage, many of our issues will be resolved if we had the energy. Our lives are skewed because of the fuel shortage which leads to transport issues. But nature has given us energy beside through fossil fuels. We can ease the fuel issue.
At this point with every prospect of Sri Lanka sinking more and more, going green is the only option to salvage our future by freeing ourselves of our horrible government, President, Prime Minister and 225 MPs included. They have failed us from 1948 and cannot suddenly turn around overnight into wizards at problem-solving.
The little freedom we have in breaking free of the government is in going green. Switching to solar power if we can afford it, and sharing the energy we generate with our neighbours is one way. Going for wood burning stoves in the style of the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa civilisations of our ancestors is another. Dusting off our bicycles is yet another. So also keeping away from Colombo as much as we can. Every potential solution must be tried out in parallel to work in tandem.
Yet another semi-green approach is ethanol. My wife Dushyanthi Hoole has strong ideas on the responsible use of creation. A professor of chemistry, she has been working on “green chemistry,” designing large scale experiments for implementation at home to suit her distance education students at the Open University. Her passion continued as a Professor of Chemistry and later Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan State University. She was fortunate to work on President Barrack Obama’s project using the plentiful corn stalks of Michigan, turning them into ethanol to be mixed with regular petrol and the left over used as animal feed or put in plastic bags where mushrooms grow in abundance. Collaborators in Coimbatore created jobs for the poor. Mexico mixes 80% ethanol with petrol. It is easy to repeat in Sri Lanka. It is no overnight solution but can yield big dividends – ease fuel and food shortages and give a livelihood to many.
A Green Home
Ours was a regular home with a big carbon footprint; air-conditioners, a diesel van and a petrol scooter. An electric bread-maker turned out bread with different styles and flavours, and cakes too. When our children were here, our electricity bills were too huge to be mentioned without embarrassment. Our food was excellent; but our lifestyle irresponsible.
Warnings of impending doom came from my student, Amalendran Jesudasan, CEB’s Chief Engineer (Distribution and Maintenance, Northern Province). He informed us that they cannot function at present tariff rates and yet the government will not allow raising tariffs. Despite belt-tightening talks with the IMF, we want everything free – “I want more” as Oliver Twist sang in Oliver. The doom is upon us as the PM announced.
There is every fear that CEB may have to shut down the way we want more of everything free. Should that happen, we cannot pump water to our overhead tank. While I can stand at the well and bathe, womenfolk cannot with their upper-class sensibilities intact.
We need to break free of our government and cannot live as we do with no control over our lives, ever willing to tolerate a corrupt government, not knowing when thy will let state enterprises like CEB shut down without charging the real cost of running them.
In this scenario, ours now became a green home. It had to. We have stopped using our two motored vehicles except when I need to take Dushyanthi with me. I am back on my bicycle, a valued BSA bought at Rs. 435 (and now not available except as an Indian (now Sri Lankan) Lumala at 10 times the price). My parents got it for me when I entered the university in 1970 . Bicycling has its hazards as well. I fell near the Nallur Kandasamy Temple where the road is 6 inches above the ground, thanks to our civil engineers who make these roads. The wheel slipped. I smashed my shoulder and then my face. I am now Scar from Lion King.
I refuse to stand in line for diesel or petrol. So as a once-for-all moral compromise I bought diesel from a friend who has a tractor. He as a farmer has the right to pump first. Poor man has 100 acres of land that he cannot plant for lack of fertilizer. So he lives off his diesel selling it at Rs. 1000 a litre which he buys at Rs. 400. Our friendship meant my getting it at Rs. 600. My van is now parked, reserved only for emergencies. When Dushyanthi needs to go somewhere, it is by our scooter.
My jumping the fuel queue was a one-time error. I feel justified by the government catering mainly to the rich, especially the Sinhalese. All exceptions – i.e., exemptions from rules – are abused. Medical personnel buy petrol for friends. A person married to a European sends his wife for petrol. From abroad we can withdraw dollars on our debit card. On a credit card we can buy air-tickets in dollars for jaunts abroad despite the claimed absence of dollars even for life-saving insulin. (I have switched from insulin to a new orally ingested wonder drug called Invokana that reduces heart attacks and kidney failure, the main causes of death among diabetics. I use my brother-in-law Indran’s doctor’s samples. For the first time, it is now available here as empagliflozin from Bangladesh. Without dollars, what is on the shelves will not be replenished).
We had to break free of this government and its corrupt ways. Investigating solar power, Chief Engineer Jesudasan designed the system to suit our home and helped get a cheaper deal with longer warranties from Micro PC systems for Rs. 2.8 million – a lot more than if I had acted just 4 months earlier but cheaper by today’s prices. It is expensive but cheaper in the long runs as I will soon sell electricity to CEB. Dushyanthi can run her baking machine. We can use 2 of our 4 ACs and all lights.
Conscious of our less fortunate neighbours’ needs, we asked trusted friends to commit $200 a month for a year to help them cope during these terrible times, particularly from the Trinco area where there is more destitution and from where people go to Mannar to be smuggled across to India, get caught, and are sent home to try again. People who responded positively include two of our children who gave $5000 each and of whom I proudly boast here. Others are Professors Kiruba Sivasubramaniam and Murugesu Sivapalan, Dr. S. Jayakumaran and S. Srimahilkanthan, and brothers-in-law Indran and Wiji Asirwatham. We are a small group but make, I think, a huge difference to the people we help.
Dushyanthi and I have kept donors few so that there is absolute trust, and our plans are flexible and manageable. Friends Michael Jeyabalan (Thiriyai), Pilendran Kumar (Konesapuri) and Mohan Nagarajah (Trinco) have helped identify the truly destitute. Jesuit Father V. Yogeswaran’s Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights helped identify women who are sole breadwinners to be set up a business with Rs. 70,000 each (sewing, chicks, tools for invalid husband). The residents of Solai were the most deserving. They lived off the jungles, especially bees’ honey. They are the constituents of Rajavarothayam Sampanthan whose political base is among such destitute persons.
We specially ensure that both Hindus and Christians are helped. Saravanas Stores in Jaffna helped us make packages approximately of Rs. 5000 and Rs. 7000 holding prices down even after they had risen – especially sugar and Anchor Milk. Saravanas connected me to Anchor’s Jaffna agent Mr. Muruhesu Gunaratnam who readily gave Anchor at the old price after it had gone up. The Rs. 7000 pack approximately comprised 10 kg rice (Rs. 2015), 5 kg flour (Rs.1200), 2 kg sugar (Rs. 450), 2 kg flour (Rs. 450), 250 g tea (Rs. 250), Life Buoy Soap (Rs.180), 2 pkts soy meat (Rs. 140), 2 kg dhal (Rs. 500), 1 pkt Sithalebbe balm (Rs. 102) 1 kg gram (Rs. 540), 1 litre coconut oil (Rs. 960), 1 kg potatoes (Rs. 190), 1 kg onions (Rs. 190) and 250 g garlic (Rs. 125). Since flour perishes quickly (3 months they say) and we are buying in advance to beat inflation, we are replacing it with oil. Our living room is a warehouse as a result.
As diesel ran out for my van, we switched some of the work to Jaffna and Thunukkai (where Shanthi Sriskantharajah, MP, looks after many affected by the war). Charities by different nuns in Mankulam (Sister Emeline) and Kilinochchi (Sister Luce Joseph) were also helped (Rs. 50,000 each). Reporter N. Lohathayalan identified people in Jaffna who were interdicted on their way to India, thereby keeping us to the spirit of the project in easing the lives of people trying to flee Sri Lanka.
We have distributed for April, and May and bought stuff for June as prices seem to spiral out of control (Muthu Samba at Rs. 220/kg that a generous trader cannot admit to having hoarded, beats Nadu/Pulungal going at Rs. 350/kg). I provide transport using my van but now there is nothing for me to travel to Trinco in. A hired van will cost significantly. We need to confer with our donors who were promised distribution in Trinco for people with children. We have strayed from that. It is to have that understanding and flexibility that we stick to donors who truly know us and we are not asking for donations as a public call. We will confine ourselves to the money we have from close friends so that we can spend as promised, changing direction only if they agree.
Without asking for new donors, rather, we wish to stir people’s’ consciences into helping others as commanded to do as they would have done to themselves if they were in the same plight.
Switching to Wood-burning Stoves
Without gas, Dushyanthy has been managing to cook with her rice cooker. Her oven project got accelerated when her brother Padman came visiting and she had to give him better food than from our rice cooker. Ever the Green Chemist, she built a home-oven in our yard – a grill on the right, oven on the left and a cooker in the middle that draws hot air from both sides to bake cakes, fry brinjals or heat curries.
Her design includes a floor with broken glass between itself and the woodfire. Special mica-containing “fire bricks” on top of the glass retain heat. She is now making activated charcoal from partially burnt coconut shells to replace firewood. Being a first attempt, it took more labour-time (6 days for 2 men and supervisor under Dushyanthi). It cost Rs. 60,000. Theepan our contractor who did not charge for his time is so impressed that he is building this 3-part cooker for himself. The next time it will take him only 2 days he says.
The inveterate energy-saver who always switches off lights not in use, she however was determined to cook everything with this oven, despite all the gadgetry and solar power we have. So I am trying for an electric grill for the oven run on solar power.
I suspect the government will continue to cater to the rich and ignore us rural folk – such as how they did by releasing gas only for Colombo – favouring only its vote-bank. Democracy has failed. In the meantime, all should go for a green home. It is a must. It is fun. It is the future.