29 November, 2021

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The Peril Of Over-Centralised Governance Manifested In Agriculture Crisis

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government decision to import “quality plant nutrients” including urea, corrects a major mistake that should not have been made and which has costed farmers and the economy dearly. So far the relaxation of the ban seems to be for commercial crops grown by the business sector. Government officials have said permission has been given to import fertilizer for export crops such as tea, rubber and coconut and also specialist fertilizer needed for greenhouse cultivation. In Moneragala, for instance, it is reported that Dole Banana and sugar cane cultivations are being provided with the required chemical fertilizer. The question is when will the fertilizer ban be removed for rice and vegetable cultivators who are small producers.

There is confusion on this that is reflected in the media. Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith Jayasinghe stated that the government has given permission to import quality plant nutrients. Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage declared that no such decision has been made by the government. According to Front Page, which is a news service of Verite Research, these two stories were reported as separate headlines in the Sinhala and Tamil newspapers- Lankadeepa, Mawbima, Divaina, Aruna, Dinamina and Virakesari.

The decision to ban chemical fertilizer has been met with opposition from the country’s experts in the field of agriculture. Academics from the universities have issued statements but to no avail. It may take some more time and more protests before the government finally yields to pressures from below, like the powerful government of Prime Minister Modi did last week in India. With public protests mounting from all parts of the country, and accompanied by opposition political protests in Colombo, the government is likely to be forced to change course. It is reported that traders at economic centres have said that incoming crops had dropped sharply. Vegetable prices have almost doubled.

Modern high yielding hybrid varieties of agricultural crops require larger inputs of chemical elements such as Nitrogen which is supplied by chemical fertilisers in concentrated amounts and by organic fertilisers in much lesser amounts. While organic fertilisers are appropriate to traditional crops, the yield will be significantly lower. It can be surmised that those who advised the president to ban chemical fertilisers overnight had no real expertise in the area of agriculture. They may have had expertise in the area of health. There is a need for those who are qualified on the basis of merit in the area that is in question should make the decision.

Abdicating Responsibility

According to the Economynext website, “Sri Lanka banned chemical fertilizer after the Government Medical Officers Association and a Buddhist monk Athuraliye Rathana carried on a campaign against them, claiming that kidney and other non-communicable diseases were caused by agro-chemicals. The GMOA has said that according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author ancient Sri Lankans had lived for over 140 years when there were no chemical fertilizer.” In addition to merit, there needs to be both rationality and science in the making of decisions.

It is unfortunate that the state institutions vested with responsibility to ensure agricultural productivity were unable to have an impact on the rationality of the decision to ban chemical fertilisers. The ban was implemented with immediate effect despite being at high cost to the national economy, to farmer incomes and to consumer prices. This is indicative of the lack of voice and strength of the relevant state agencies that needs to be rectified. The two ways to rectify their weakness is to ensure that persons appointed to high positions of state are competent and that once they are appointed they are secure in their positions to stand up for what is right and rational. An appointing authority comprising the government, opposition and civil society, as envisaged by the 17th and 19th Amendments would be more likely to make suitable appointments than the president acting by himself with his advisors.

The failure to reverse the idiosyncratic decision to ban chemical fertilisers for over six months points to the need to strengthen state institutions. Decisions on issues that affect the country as a whole need to be taken by institutions and not by individuals. In the Sri Lankan context this would call for the repeal of the 20th Amendment to the constitution which strengthened presidential powers at the expense of state institutions. A key feature of the 20th Amendment is to give to the president the sole authority to appoint persons to high positions of state.

On the other hand, the key feature of both the 17th and 19th Amendments was to vest the power of appointments of high state officers in the hands of the constitutional council, which was designed to be a multi-partisan selection body. The Constitutional Council comprised members of the government, opposition and civil society in a tripartite mechanism. Instead of having the president pick the top officials himself, the 17th and 19th Amendments ensured that such appointments were made jointly by government, opposition and civil society representatives. It is more likely that the better choice would be made by a multi-partisan body jointly than by a single individual advised by his associates.

New Constitution

It is to be hoped that the new constitution that is being drafted, and which the prime minister has promised by the end of the year, would take these considerations into account. The members of the expert committee entrusted with drafting the new constitution have themselves been appointed by the president. There is no indication of participation by other members of the government or of the opposition or of civil society in their selection. A worst case scenario would be one in which the expert committee seeks to introduce the centralization inherent in the 20th Amendment to the whole of the constitution. This would vitiate pluralism, diversity and weaken the system of checks and balances within the country that are needed to facilitate better decision making at all levels.

The fiasco over chemical fertilisers, where decision makers make decisions outside their areas of competence, highlights the pitfalls that over centralized decision making can lead to. In a similar manner, over centralized decision making can lead to decisions that are insensitive to regional, ethnic and religious differences that exist among the people. The different communities living in the country are plural in their traditions and practices, and should have the right to be different and the space to practice their different traditions. They should not be subjected to discrimination or be forced into a centralized straitjacket which are the issues that led to decades of ethnic conflict and finally to the war for separation.

Another reason why 20th Amendment is not the way forward is that it leads to the weakening of institutions that are mandated to check impunity, bribery and corruption in the country. The media headlines these days, thanks to the courage of investigative journalists, are stories of mega corruption, including on the purchases of substitutes for chemical fertilisers. These allegations need to be investigated by law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities who do not feel they are beholden to anyone, including the appointing authority. The travails that Sri Lanka is currently going through highlights the need for the best appointments to be made, with merit being recognized and integrity being encouraged, which will be best done jointly and collaboratively by the government, opposition and civil society.

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Latest comments

  • 10
    5

    You mean our Provincial Governments are good ?

    What nonsense ! They are centres of inefficiency, incompetence and corruption !

    This writer is so dishonest when it comes to promoting his own ideas !

    • 3
      0

      Thanks, Jehan Perera for a much more honest article than those you’ve been writing recently.
      .
      I must confess that I wasn’t reading all that many of what you were writing in days of yore in good English. I had the impression that they were platitudinous, but, perhaps I was being unfair.
      .
      How to condemn what you haven’t read?
      .
      Or read carelessly, dear Deepthi Silva? Jehan hasn’t really advocated that the oafs in Provincial Councils should make decisions. At last we seem to have realised that serious thinking has to done by people competent in their fields of expertise.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

      • 3
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        Jehan Perera …… you have a talent for writing articles while brain-dead ……… I don’t know how you do it …….. you are one in a 22 million.

        What we need is not more government, centralized or decentralized ……… what we need is less frigging government!

        Lanka can be heaps better governed with 100 MPs and 15 ministers.

        The problem is, everybody think they are essential and the others are not ……. like you, writing these useless articles that won’t make an iota of difference …….. Basil thinks he is essential and has the gall to say the government-service is bloated!

        Instead of distributing a dole for the unemployed it’s better to have a bloated government-service that is “semi-employed” and spread the public wealth around in small amounts …….. that will keep the economy churning …. when those people (a large number) spend their money for essential goods and services ……… rather than Basil and the rest of the scum of the earth Rajapakse low-lives robbing it in vast chunks and hording it in overseas secret bank accounts.

        For once in your frigging sorry life write a honest article …….. asking to reduce the government and their perks/privileges …….. and the utter waste in the useless parliament!

        • 2
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          I bet you won’t have the honesty to write it ……. it will put you out of a NGO stipend ………

          So, more of the same ……. next week, eh?

          Thank your lucky stars that it’s the imbecile Gota who is no Hitler …….. if I had half a chance I’d line all you dishonest elite up against a wall and shot …….. that would put the country on the right track ……….

          There should be an end to this BS.

  • 6
    2

    .. where decision makers make decisions outside their areas of competence, highlights the pitfalls that over centralized decision making….
    The best example of this is : Thanks to the 20A under which Sir Cular said to the government employees : Do as I say and not as the ARs and FRs say.
    See where it has taken us today.
    But all depends on who represents that source of power in the centralized system, an incompetent know-all or a balance of power.
    In the People’s Republic of China, the ‘Central People’s Government’ forms one of three interlocking branches of power, the others being the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army. Many heads to balance the system and they have success and stability – much like our original Cabinet representing the Executive, the Judiciary and Legislature with their own areas of power.
    The Constitution of the United States divides the federal government into three branches to make sure no individual or group will have too much power:
    • Legislative—Makes laws (Congress, comprised of the House of Representatives and Senate)
    • Executive—Carries out laws (president, vice president, Cabinet, most federal agencies)
    • Judicial—Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)
    Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches.
    Only leads one to embrace that maxim : Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    • 3
      1

      Apology.
      Error : ……But all depends on who represents that source of power in the centralized system, an incompetent know-all or a balance of power….
      Should read:
      …But all depends on who represents that source of power in the centralized system, an arrogant know-all or an inept know-all……

    • 5
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      When power is centralised in someone who issues instructions as in this way, as head of state, has anyone, any idea of the confusion created.
      https://www.lankanewsweb.net/66-special-news/97647-President-Gotabhaya-asks-to-get-rid-of-any-officials-who-keep-requesting-chemical-fertilizers-here-a
      Wonderful nonsense.

      • 4
        0

        Dear MyView,
        .
        Thanks. I read through that. Arrant nonsense, as you say.
        .
        GATAM & Deepthi Silva, can you show me one place in this article in which Provincial Councils are mentioned? Fortunately, NV and Ajith have tossed out that unwarranted talk before the red herring had begun to stink.
        .
        In these last two articles, we’ve lambasted Jehan Perera for writing naive and “innocent” nonsense:
        .
        https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/support-the-willingness-for-course-correction/
        .
        and before that:
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        https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/non-consultative-decision-making-will-not-work/
        .
        This is actually a good and bold article. There are, indeed, oblique references to sections of the Constitution, but I get the impression that GATAM & Deepthi have commented after (mis)reading only the title and not the article.
        .
        MyView, I noticed just now that I have left unanswered a query you’ve made on the 18th regarding pseudonyms. Sorry. Is it not clear enough that I’ve been deliberately ambiguous? I have the highest respect for all your comments.

        • 3
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          Dear SM
          ……I have the highest respect for all your comments….
          Thank you for that encomium – and will try to keep upto that standard, in spite of your feelings regarding pseudonyms.
          I feel impersonal exchange of ideas makes them objective.

    • 5
      1

      No amount of constitutional tinkering will have any effect when it is possible for 6.9 m idiots to elect an ignorant jackass who then buys himself a two-thirds majority. Any constitution must be set in stone and adjudicated by foreigners, Privy Council style. Isn’t 70 years long enough to prove that Sri Lankans can’t govern themselves?

      • 3
        1

        old codger

        “No amount of constitutional tinkering will have any effect when it is possible for 6.9 m idiots to elect an ignorant jackass who then buys himself a two-thirds majority.”

        Okay, do you know as to why 6.9 M (Dayan’s majority of the majority) idiots voted for ignorant jackass? I have been looking for a comprehensive analysis of 2019 & 2020 election results. Please let us have your observation.

  • 6
    2

    Crisis after crisis. Asuchi after Asuchi aiyoooooooooooooooooooooo
    .
    Not the slightest sign of the light of progress seen at the end of the tunnel. Thissakuttiarachchi or the like LOW LIVES are set to attack educated female politicians. Rajapakshes cant be without the kind of malicious acts.
    :
    All these were not overlooked, but media mafia run by Rajapakshes and their fraudsters made the FAKE PUBLIC perception in order to reap out the harvest on it.. They did manage it to mislead the very same mercy cows again. Yellow pets became the decoratives animals as is the case in Kelaniya and Nuwara perahara parades. It was all seen beautiful to the naive and gulliable majority, that would not even think twice before going to say ” SADHU SADHU” for SAMANTHA badra or the like PARADISE birds and their so called ” BANA preachings”. Every corners of the country today, even on fishmonger board, a radio or a loudspeaker is on with ” pirith” with them being decorated by PIRITH NOOLE which was now not small as seen in my childhood (in late 70ties), but looks like ” lanu kerali”…. all because NATION #S MOST ABUSIVE MAN Mahinda Rajapakshe wear is being superstitous as no other leaders in the region.

  • 6
    1

    Dr. JP: The US citizens Basil and Goat Jarapassa family and the Sinhala Buddhist LA Diaspora have been weaponized to work for the biggest Rogeue State and arms manufacturer and military pollutor in the world!
    The Fertilizer crisis is just the most recent and part of the larger COP-26 Anthropocene Spin and Greenwash project whereby big global corporate interests land grab and ocean grab and deprive citizens in impvoerished countries in the Global South of their land and ocean resources in the name of the Blue-Green Economy and climate change reversal!
    From Covid-19 to CoP 26 we are now in kept in a State of Permanent Emergency – Total Social and Economic disruption is part of Hybrid Cyber-trade war by the gigget Rogue state in the world to reverse Globalization and sink the Rise of Asia as the Growth Hub of the world.
    this is part of the the Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD) and Over the Horizon operations (OTH) to control small countries like Sri Lanka by the biggest Rogue State in the world with capture of Data systems and Knowledge and research and policy space after disruption of Economy and society with Cyber, Hybrid trade war and ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE! Get with the plot – Your NGO is part of the weaponization of the Diaspora networks and Religious identity politics which is also part of FSD!

  • 4
    1

    From Covid-19 to CoP-26 citizens are now in kept in a state of Permanent Emergency – fear and distraction. Total Social and Economic disruption is part of FSD or Hybrid Cyber-trade war by the biggest Rogue state in the world, that wants to reverse Globalization and sink the Rise of Asia as the Growth Hub of the world.

    Why was there no mention of militarization – the biggest pollution industry in the world and seas – deaths of Whales and Dolphins in Sri Lanka during QUAD war games, and Garbage from US military bases, aircraft carriers, submarines, air pollution from the War Machine at COP 26? Militarization is the Elephant in the Room of Climate Change Hipocracy at the UN.
    Dr. JP your NGO which works for peace needs to ask for the Indian Ocean to be made a Zone of Peace and not environmentally polluting militarization.

  • 5
    1

    Provincial councils are a bigger disaster and one root cause of the economic crisis.

    New constitution must remove PCs and save billions.

    • 2
      2

      GATAM

      “Provincial councils are a bigger disaster and one root cause of the economic crisis.”

      Please explain to us the island’s political economy of the current economic and political crisis.

    • 5
      1

      GATAM,
      There is no evidence to say that Provincial councils are a bigger disaster than Centralised governments. No body wants provincial councils or district councils. Devolution of power is a request from the people of North East Sri Lanka where majority of people speak different language to other parts of the country because they were neglected or discriminated by centralised administration. Further the centralised government failed to protect the Tamils from violence. A peaceful devolution of power would have saved billions of unproductive expenditure of defence and other expenditures due to riots instigated by Sri Lankan politicians.

  • 3
    1

    JP: This time you had the courage to say: ” It can be surmised that those who advised the President to ban chemical fertilizer overnight had no real experience in the area of agriculture” Together with that, I appreciate your reference to the “Constitution” making “Committee” appointed by the President of his “OWN” choice.

    Mr. JP: This man – the President to be precise is an “Incorrigible Mad Man”. Now the people openly call him a “Mad Man”. From day one, his selection of members to various “Task Forces” is an indication of his “Incompetency” in decision making and it is not worth the effort to name such persons who are serving in those “Forces”. He is “Arrogant” and more than that “Ego” centric (Uddachcha) “Upstart” who is on a path to “Ruine” the country. He will “FINISH” the balance left with the introduction of the “Self Made New Constitution”. Hopefully, the PEOPLE will wake up to realize the “Danger” ahead and push off this “Bull in the China Shop”.

  • 0
    0

    The fact that there are scientists doesn’t mean that we should stop observing and interpreting for ourselves – the only way to “understand”, I feel. We as individuals must THINK!
    .
    I have come to the conclusion that Gota doesn’t have the intelligence of a plant! Jehan’s article has this section:

    .
    “Modern high yielding hybrid varieties . . . in much lesser amounts.”
    .
    For about 18 months now, a nephrologist has told me that I have a kidney problem myself, and he’s said that I’ve got to cut down on Potassium. If we try to treat ourselves, it can be quite confusing:
    .
    https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-potassium-fruits.php
    .
    Contradicted in places by:
    .
    https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/abo9045
    .
    tbc

  • 0
    0

    Continuing . . .
    .
    Also, he “strangely” wanted to build up both Vitamin B12 and Zinc; sounded weird, but fortunately he doesn’t mind a joke at his expense, and some “disobedience”. However, I must honestly tell him where I “cheat”. But it has driven the point home to me that different varieties of plants draw on nutrients in different ways. That’s why the “rotation of crops”.
    .
    However, what I’ve now noticed is that lots of fruitlets appear on citrus plants. Quite minute quantities of chemical fertiliser when they were available, meant many fruit matured. Now I find that the plant seems to realise that all that is unsustainable; they drop off when quite small. I’ve got to cull the fruitlets. I can’t understand it all, but I begin to appreciate the judgement needed by the farmer.
    .
    If this doesn’t make sense, then don’t bother! we just can’t afford to be arrogant, though! I know that I’m incapable of setting up rigid rules for others.

    .
    Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

  • 1
    0

    Starting from a few years prior to independence and to date, the country was living beyond its means. Boru shoke and Boru show were the land marks. A few days prior to his death, SWRD said in bitter disappointment “Nothing that we do will satisfy you because of your Boru Show” lives.
    Before writing on “Agriculture Crisis”, is it known that between years 2,000 to 2021, no less than 200,000 to 300,000 crop acres (maha + yala) of irrigated paddy land were not cultivated every year?
    Was it ever realised that the import and trader lobby was the villain of the piece, drumming up shortfalls, come November, December and January each year without fail?
    Did the country understand that ignorance in the nation except in 1966 to 1970, harmed the farmer and drove him to penury?
    If this thesis is correct, why do the other farmers cultivate? Because the opportunity cost of their labour is NIL !

  • 1
    0

    At least there is a sigh of relief because that “BULL” has been compelled by the “Farmers Struggle” to change the course and import those urgently needed chemical fertilizers and weedicides for the “Maha Season”. Hopefully, we can expect a rice supply in time for the New Year.

    That “GOTA” = The “BULL” could not see what the “FARMERS” saw. That reminds me: “Ane Devdat Nodutu Mokpura” story. This man “DEVDAT” (GOTA) guided by “Ignorance” and “Ego” (Uddachcha) even walked into the UN Assembly to declare that Sri Lanka will be made the “FIRST” country to adopt to “Cabonic Fertilizer”. I know for certain, that he will never learn.

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