4 December, 2020

Blog

Drunk And Disorderly

By Kath Noble

Kath Noble

Something has gone to Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s head, and I’m guessing it’s power. Because that seems to be the only thing that interests him these days – how to bolster his own position and how to undermine everybody else’s.

Hence his first priority after the end of the war was to get himself another term as president. The presidential election was called early, and it was followed within a couple of months by a parliamentary election, enabling him to strengthen his grip on the legislature too. The Opposition was in disarray. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted a two thirds majority, so a few more crossovers had to be engineered. Neatly bringing us to priority number two – legislation to reduce checks and balances on the executive, and to enable him to run again, as many times as he finds convenient, by abolishing term limits. The Constitution was changed. And it was ‘urgent’. Naturally, for what could be more important than Mahinda Rajapaksa’s future? Not peace-building, certainly. That’s for wimps. The third and final priority was to keep the Opposition cowed. Which is why he has called one election after another, to keep them in campaign mode so that they never get around to replacing their has-been leader.

The actual running of the country has suffered. But that needn’t matter if people learn to be satisfied with the mere appearance of achievement rather than the real thing. What matters is announcing that resettlement is complete and Manik Farm closed down, right? Not whether the IDPs are actually back home with roofs over their heads. Get with the programme, folks.

The Government isn’t bothered about ‘details’ like that. After all, it won the war – nothing else matters.

It certainly doesn’t matter that university teachers have been on strike for three months. Never mind that such a massive and sustained trade union action by a normally rather conservative group of people is unprecedented in Sri Lanka.

What matters is not giving in to terrorism.

Sorry, did I say terrorism? I must be getting confused – the modern world is so difficult for those of us with only limited intelligence. It’s academics Mahinda Rajapaksa shouldn’t negotiate with, right?

The FUTA struggle presents us with a crystal clear picture of the Government’s post-war failings.

The debate has exposed just how little substance there is to the grandiose vision that was set out in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s much-hyped Chintana. He wanted Sri Lanka to become a knowledge hub, for people to flock to its universities from around the world and for them to turn out graduates prepared to transform the country into the ‘Miracle of Asia’.

So far, so inspiring.

But Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a man with half a brain to make it happen.

SB Dissanayake had only one idea for the development of universities – put a stop to ragging. Because this is how he managed to spend four years at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura following a degree in ‘public administration’ without learning even the basics of how to minister to a government department? I guess not. It was training in how to be a politician he was after those days, for which purpose I imagine ragging was very helpful. Who knows. Wiping out ragging is a pretty simple task. And as a ‘bonus’, it can be linked up with the further militarisation of society by making young people eager to discover the origins and meaning of life in the universe march around in circles and learn how to salute. A no-brainer, in other words. Anything else would no doubt turn out to be a bit tricky, the Minister may have thought, so it had better be left to the private sector. At least that would bring in some money.

I have already discussed the follies of the Private Universities Bill in these columns, so I will not bore readers by repeating myself, except to say the following – companies may provide the kind of education that students think will get them jobs, but they have absolutely no incentive to do anything more.

That leaves stopping ragging.

Now, ragging is a waste of time (and worse) that certainly ought to be stopped. But stopping it falls rather short of being a comprehensive plan for the creation of a knowledge-based society in Sri Lanka!

When confronted with other people’s ideas, the Minister hasn’t demonstrated a lot of patience. Indeed, his response to the FUTA struggle has mirrored the Government’s reaction to any and all criticism, displaying a totally absurd war mentality.

SB Dissanayake alternates between claiming that the demands of the university teachers are unreasonable, if not downright sinister, and saying that they have already been met.

Take the call for the Government to spend 6% of GDP on education. According to SB Dissanayake, this is a random figure dreamt up by Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri over his morning tea, with short eats provided by the Opposition, NGOs or most imaginatively Prabhakaran‘s ghost, all to make trouble for Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, it is actually a globally accepted norm. What’s more, it is a target that the Government along with its counterparts in many other countries, including the whole of South Asia, has committed to reaching. The only person who thinks it is not important is the responsible minister in Sri Lanka.

Adding insult to injury, he then manages to claim both that public expenditure on education is already nearly at 6% and, in his very next utterance, that it need never be anywhere near 6% since Sri Lankans are already very well-educated. What a propaganda machine! The figure of 1.9% was calculated by the Government. The last time the UK allocated such a tiny proportion of GDP for education was during the First World War – it currently spends 6.1%. Think of all the extra ministers we could have if only we realised that 1.9% was enough for countries with near universal literacy! Maybe SB Dissanayake would agree to look after our universities once he has finished ‘revitalising’ the ones in Sri Lanka. We could do with some help with our trade union movement. But coming back to the point, it is official statistics that UNESCO includes in its global database (www.uis.unesco.org). FUTA has nothing to do with it. Rummaging around in the national income accounts to find some other vaguely associated spending to add to the 1.9%, as SB Dissanayake sometimes advocates, is simply not credible.

When the Minister is in a mood to accept that Sri Lanka does indeed spend only 1.9% of GDP on education, he is keen to point out that increasing the allocation would take up an impractically large share of government revenue. How thoughtful! Like any good housewife, he is keen to keep expenditure within income. Will he also offer to give up his perks in the national interest? Don’t hold your breath. But of course the economy doesn’t function like a household – increasing government expenditure can generate more income. The share of government expenditure, which is the only relevant figure, wouldn’t have to be unduly large either, since government expenditure could be increased to meet the 6% target.

But enough with the ‘details’, right?

SB Dissanayake would rather waste our time (or worse) calling the leaders of the FUTA struggle names, trying to make us suspect their motives.

Smear tactics are the bread and butter of the Government.

Its objective is not to find a solution to the problems in universities, but to hang on until academics have to give up their strike – three months is a long time to go without salaries.

It simply hates to lose. And winning has come to mean sticking to a position, whatever happens.

Mahinda Rajapaksa should be ashamed of himself for losing track of what is truly important. He did Sri Lanka a tremendous service by putting an end to the generation long war, for which the vast majority of people are extremely grateful, even if they do not approve of each and every action taken in the process. He amassed massive political capital. And he was, and indeed still is, in a position to do even more good for the country. Sri Lankans waited a long time for peace, not only to escape the relentless death and destruction but also because so many things were excused or put on hold because of the war. They have a long list of priorities, none of which it seems Mahinda Rajapaksa can be bothered to tackle now that he has ensured his own place in the history books.

A change of attitude at the top is required.

*Kath Noble’s column may be accessed online at http://kathnoble.wordpress.com. She may be contacted at kathnoble99@gmail.com.

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Latest comments

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    Mahinda Rajapaksa is a despot. Pure and simple. Nothing is going to change at the top. He and his family are currently on a dynasty building expedition. The majority of this country can put a stop to this by taking to the streets or voting en masse against his regime. But that won’t happen anytime soon. Most of the academics who went on strike recently were instrumental in bringing this despot into power. If it took educated people this long to realise that they had made a mistake…it’s going to take the gullible majority much longer to realise. Until then lets meander along as the blunder of asia… :)

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    The change in stance of writers as Kath Noble who are the paid pointers in the current system, is an indication which way the wind is blowing. The currents are many and one has to view all with utmost care as otherwise it will be a case of ‘Gone with the Wind’.

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    I forgot to mention that the narrative of Kath Noble is accurate and to the point with no distortions. Strange though under today’s context.

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    What has gone to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s head is the Kath Noble’s of our media in whose eyes Our Beloved Monarch could do no wrong! Suddenly she (and the likes of that other reprehensible person) Malinda Seneviratne have seen the light!

    Why don’t the two of you find a yoke, attach yourselves to it and march around in tandem like a “gon baana?” That would be an appropriate use of your time (and ours) rather than read your insincere “mea culpas.”

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    Somewhat balanced this time :) Great analysis showing reality of the day – at least to someextent – under this uneducated leader who has big words but not focusing on the essence of the moment :((((

  • 1
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    I am awaiting Dayan’s professorial explanation that Kath Noble is radically wrong!!! Ha Ha!

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    Dayan will also have to change his stance soon. Actually that should be the true nature of political scientists- even if that could cost him the job. Sadly, our Sihalayas would never learn :((

  • 0
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    WHEN THE PEOPLE ARE EDUCATED,
    THIS CUNNING, UNEDUCATED, BOGUS DOCTORATES AND LAW DEGREE [SHEEP SKIN] COATED, POLITICIAN THIEVES CAN NOT LOOT.

    SO, THEY ARE TRYING TO DESTABILIZE THE EDUCATION SYSTEM. AND CHEAT THE MASSES, KILLING AND LOOTING.

    LONG LIVE OUR BOGUS KING, HIS FAMILY, ADVISING JAKASSES,DRUG PEDALING SUPPOTERS AND SECURITY UNDER WORLD BUTCHERS.

    THEY AND THEIR GENERATIONS WILL TAKE THIS CURSE.
    THEIR LIVES AND THEIR GENERATIONS LIVES MAY NOT SUCCEED AND ALL MAY BURN IN HELL FOR MILLION YEARS FOR THE SINS THEY COMMIT.

  • 0
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    SB scored a ‘world first’ by inventing “leadership training” for new university entrants.
    Now school principals are designated “Brevet Colonels” – another ‘world first’.
    We are now a ‘militarised society’ under a Military Regime cum Police State.
    All of it,according to Mahinda Chindanaya.

  • 0
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    where were all these people when inocent 150,000 Tamils were killed. I who suffered now rejoice that same villain is giving the same medicine Those who rejoiced the killing

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    With the impressive economic progress recorded by the Sri Lanka Central Bank, together with a record high per capita annual income of USD2800, the gross domestic product would also have grown rapidly.

    Accordingly, 6% of GDP should translate to a substantial sum of money. The volume of government revenue by way of corporate taxation has (rather surprisingly) declined over the same period in which the above records seem to have been achieved, whereas the opposite would have been the logical outcome.

    The benchmark 6% of GDP allocation for education could be realised if a fraction of actual government revenue is collected or recorded for statistical and financial audit purposes.

  • 0
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    Send it to “THe Island:. That is her favourite ground!.

  • 0
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    HE HAS A HEAD, BUT NOTHING INSIDE!!!!!

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    I wonder why Kath Noble has turned anti Rajapaksa afetr singing his praises for a long time. Many of us who saw the devious and dictatorial streak of Rajapaksa years ago are at a loss to understand how these so called pundits and commentators were so easily fooled for many years by Rajapaksa.

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      Piranha:
      Only honest people can be “fooled.” This is one of that common breed in Sri Lanka: a journalistic gun for hire without anything resembling shame!
      Bad enough we have a surfeit of Michael Roberts, Dayan Jayatillekes, Wijesinhas etc., we have to “import” people like this pasty-faced woman who could do with a bit of a sun tan!

    • 0
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      Well said.how could any one sing praises of a guy who misappropriated tsunami funds? That is steeling from the poorest of the poor!

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    Kath, Can you imagine lecturers going on strike for three months in your blooming country? The lecturers in Britain are heavily underpaid but they could not even think about a strike action. Because?? Yes everything is almost private over there and at least the academic community is reasonable. Can you imagine a situation in Sri Lanka where a lecturer is paid as same as a school teacher or a professor’s salary being on a par with a school head, which is very much the case in Britain? May be you have an anchor who provides you with some information but be careful, there is always another side to a story that you know not a lot!
    Of course you are confused. Do you remember when Tony Blair said his three priorities were education three times? Well he said that and won the election but then appointed a man who couldn’t bloody see to make it happen. What exactly did that minister do for your country? As the Home secretary he almost decriminalized cocaine and almost downclassed heroine. This minister finally resigned from the cabinet when he was caught in a sex scandal. What this Noble lady doesn’t know is that politics stinks..all over the world. It is not an excuse for us to have ministers of SB’s calibre but it certainly is not an excuse for a woman who knows nothing about the country to talk about the issue she has no idea about.
    Not only SB, there is nobody in the parliament who deserves to have a chance to run our country. But a woman who knows next to nothing about our country has to be put in her place. Although military training to university students is a bum of an idea, military training to young people can’t be an alien concept to her. There are western countries where the military training is still compulsory for their youth. In Sri Lanka it is a waste of money as well but why does she have to worry too much? When the Homicide rate has dropped from 2045 to 745 between 2006 and 2010 in our country with the end of the war, the rate remained almost static in her ill-disciplined country, where the respective rates were 894 and 722. In deed we have problems in our politically divided country but our children at least respect the adults.
    Understandable she is worried that we are opening private universities, because it is estimated some universities in Britain will cease to function if there are no international students. All the universities in Britain are like private universities charging extortionate amounts from students. But when other countries introduce parallel systems, she doesn’t like it.
    When the lecturers went on strike during Tony Blair’s time, he just rubbished the idea of paying more to lecturers. He said, more emphasis has to be given to enroll more students in universities because his target was to increase the university intake to 50%. Does she know our universities cater only for 10% of those who sit for A/L and 5% of any age group? Despite that, lecturers are the highest paid educationists but she knows the best because she has the skin to prove it.
    How many people have spoken about the 6% issue but what this parrot like lady knows is what she has been told. When the total revenue of the country is 15% of the GDP, when 6% they demand amounts to almost half of the country’s revenue, when Devasiri himself wouldn’t know what to do with such a large amount of investment to improve the country’s education, or basically even with that whether we would ever enroll 50% of the youth in universities, of course 6% was a number plucked out of thin air. But she knows the best! She is careful not to talk about Europe but talk about South Asia. No Kath, 6% is a guide agreed upon by most countries but that number includes private investment too. Even your own government does not invest 6% of the GDP or anywhere near that in education. This year the independent commission itself said, that 15,000 fewer applicants enrolled in universities in England due to the increase in tuition fees. The university budget in the UK was slashed mercilessly this year from 4.2 billion pounds to 700 million pounds. These are long term problems the countries themselves have to sort out, so you can perhaps sod off and write about Britain now.
    What the heck she knows about our universities anyway? We have a university system where the lecturers simply work only if they choose to. They are not under pressure, there are lecturers who teach only one hour per week, and how does that compare with Britain? Rajiva Wijeinghe had the following statistics yesterday.
    “In the Arts Faculty in Colombo, in one department, 15 out of 17 had been assigned 90 hours or fewer per semester, ie 6 hours a week, in one semester. In the Peradeniya Arts Faculty I was sorry to note that English academics seemed the most leisured, with no one getting to over 100 hours per semester except for one person who did 150, having come in in the second semester. A more senior person, having been on sabbatical in the first semester, managed 18 hours in the second, which is just over 1 hour a week.”
    “In the Jayewardenepura Science Faculty, only 4 people out of 81 taught for more than 100 hours in even one semester. 4 persons did not have lectures assigned, while several had 15 or, in one case, just 10.”
    Kath, we have a mess to sort out than paying more. Just leave us alone.

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