Separation of Concern

10 September 2007

Separation of concern between the legislature (parliament) and the executive (the president and the cabinet) cannot be maintained if there are links between the two – especially if both comprise the same individuals. Members of the legislature should not hold ministerial positions. I have failed to find any provisions in the Sri Lankan constitution that forbid such intermingling. It should not be allowed. The concept of Balance of Power which is central to modern democracy can only work if the powers of the legislature, executive and judiciary are set AGAINST each other. Both the legislature and judiciary should be able to question the actions of the executive. This cannot happen if the branches are friendly to each other.

“Paid Degrees”

6 September 2007

Some Sri Lankan public university graduates are in the habit of calling the qualifications of private university graduates “paid degrees”. Private university graduates in all fairness should turn around and call such people “beggars”. Entrance to Sri Lankan public universities is highly merit based and only the best get in, especially in the technical and scientific disciplines. Some of these highly intelligent students tend to suffer from inferiority complexes which turn into ‘superiority complexes’ as they begin to see themselves as the best-of-the-best and the only ones who are capable of or DESERVING of a university degree.

A tragedy of our system is that graduates who are meant to go into research and development end up being doctors and engineers. Graduates who were meant to become doctors and engineers end up as technicians or in various middle management/desk jobs. The reason: we do not have enough space in our universities for everyone who deserves entry. So we raise the bar above international standards. We get the best few but we do not have research or development. So they treat patients and work with equipment. The segment of the Sri Lankan population with an IQ sufficient for medicine or engineering ends up further below*. If some of these can afford to pay for their higher education, by all means allow them to do so.

The standards in private institutions are not necessarily too lax (not counting fraudulent establishments). The standards in public ones are too tight. Public university graduates have no right to resent somebody who has to work less hard to get his degree. The additional hard work the public university graduate has to put in is compensation for his inability to pay for what he receives.

Student union demands to regulate (or ban altogether) private universities should not be entertained in any form. A person who not only takes his gifted education for granted but also wants to deny others the opportunity to learn should NEVER be accepted into a university no matter how intelligent he is. An intelligent fool is a lot more dangerous than a stupid one.

* One of the reasons why third world professionals aboard often make their western counterparts look incompetent: we are pitting our top tier against their middle tier. Many of THEIR best people tend to be in R & D.

Nutritional supplements for school children

30 August 2007

If the government of Sri Lanka wishes to undertake any school-based nutritional programs, it must take the form of nutritional supplements rather than the wasteful “milk-and-buns-for-all” form (I’m referring to a 1990’s program). One of the vitamins Sri Lankans are most deficient in happens to be one of the cheapest: vitamin B. Beri-Beri–a disease resulting from vitamin B deficiency–is named after the Sinhalese word for it.

There are many school children who do not receive their daily allowance of calories. But it is wasteful to use a blanket program to reach such a subset. It spreads the finances too thin: the only things that can be provided to ALL school children is something as nutritionally worthless as a bun and a sugar-laden packet of flavored milk.

Sri Lankans (even affluent ones) are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals due to the nature of their diet. A blanket program should target THIS deficiency. A TARGETED program should reach the calorie-deficient group (but should be done in a way that will not subject the child to social stigma).

The B complex of vitamins and vitamin C are safe for un-prescribed mass distribution. Overdoses are not absorbed by the body due to water-solubility. These two vitamins are essential for the proper functioning of many bodily functions, including the immune system and the nervous system. Among the many symptoms of deficiency are increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, reduced alertness and lethargy. Vitamins B and C are extremely cheap, easy to transport and store (compared to food items).

I am skeptical of government-sponsored programs with good intentions. However, every administration wants to undertake them. Therefore the best taxpayers can do is at least demand that they attempt the proper program. Iodine supplemented salt has demonstrated some success in fighting hypothyroidism. The benefits of daily vitamin B and C supplements may be even higher. On the long term, savings in public health care costs may help offset part of the program’s costs.

Remove nationalist indoctrination from school syllabi

24 August 2007

State schools teach the basics of political/ethnic prejudice in the process of teaching history. National pride is not something that can be TAUGHT. It’s something you grow into by yourself. When you try to TEACH national pride, what you end up teaching is prejudice.

National history of every country should explicitly start with the following: We’re NOT the greatest nation on Earth. We’re NOT the most righteous people on Earth. We’re not the most clever. We may be ahead in some areas, behind in others, but we’re just another group of people just like everybody else.

Avoid things like: Glorification of past, bloody battles: History books meant for young children depict Dutugemunu as a hero in the Elara-Dutugemunu war. The same treatment is given to a number of other less-than-righteous kings.

If memory serves me, a Grade nine school history book mentioned with barely concealed glee, two notable defeats of Portuguese/British at the hands of Sinhalese militia. It specifically mentions how a certain lake/marsh turned red with the blood of the foreign soldiers: hardly an educational fact.

Many other interactions with foreign races have been recorded in our school history books in neutral sounding language, but with a definite Sri Lankan slant. The school books have been partially sanitized of most of the wrongdoings committed by Sri Lankans.

As Bertrand Russell says, if every country taught their own imperfections and non-superiority to their young, they will be less likely to approve state aggression against other ethnicities or groups. But such a public is a disadvantage to a power-seeking regime.

Economy vs. Security

22 August 2007

There needs to be two types of government monitors among citizens: those who monitor security without economic concerns and those who monitor economics without security concerns. Using security concerns to distract people away from economic failures is one of the oldest tricks in a politician’s repertoire, because economics and security represent the two most basic concerns: one is concerned with the gaining or production of value while the other is concerned with the prevention of their loss (by values, I mean lives and property).

If we were to appoint someone to evaluate this administration’s economic performance without letting himself be influenced by security issues, he will report that economic performance is unacceptable. It is important that not all concerned mount the mainstream media bandwagon. When an issue appears on front page headlines, we automatically assume it is of highest priority. If the coverage involves an incident, then it IS of highest priority as long as the event is in progress. However, as soon as the situation subsides, coverage MUST return to long term issues. If short term issues receive too much coverage, then by the time one is finished, another would have arrived to fill the headlines. This may be acceptable to mainstream media that depend on action-packed headlines for sales and ratings. But the non-mainstream and citizen journalists must keep covering the longer term issues. In fact, some can afford to concentrate SOLELY on “standing” issues while allowing mainstream media to cover sensational news

Unethical ordainment of children

9 August 2007

More serious than unethical conversion is unethical ordainment. It is in the interest of both the religious and the secularists that ill-disciplined, dishonest and malevolent individuals do not make it to the ranks of monks and priests. Make it illegal for a parent or any adult to ordain a child as a priest/monk without his/her consent. It is disgraceful that certain parents find nothing wrong with the practice of ‘donating’ their children to the Order in the hopes of accumulating merit/blessings for themselves. Unfortunately yet predictably, these tend to be the same priests/monks who start behaving like regular individuals (and sometimes worse) when they become adult members of the clergy. They were never meant to be priests/monks; they may even harbor resentment over their fate. They are unable to lead the life of a priest; yet they cannot leave the Order without social stigma; even if they do, most of them are without the skills to survive outside their respective religious establishment.

Ordainment is a decision that carries life long consequences. A dependent under the age of 18 is in no position to give consent to it. Yet, the major religions prevailing in Sri Lanka require than the training of priests/monks start early. The minimum age for ANY form of ordainment should be 13. Between 13 and 16, the parents and the priests/monks must provide written assurances to authorities that the person to be ordained is fully willing and prepared and he must be interviewed separately by officials before legal permission is given. Ideally, religious laws should change to allow anyone to undergo priesthood training from any age between 13 to 18, and at age 18 decide whether to continue or not; and to be able to leave the establishment without any stigma. Ordainment of children against their will should be banned.

Government as an arbiter/representative

4 August 2007

The failure of democracy in third world countries is largely attributed to the average third world citizen’s tendency to view the government as a caregiver, rather than an arbiter/representative. This is why communism is an Eastern phenomenon (most third world countries being concentrated in the eastern hemisphere).

It is not the government’s job to supply bread, water or housing. It is not the government’s job to take care of citizen’s needs. In a proper democracy that responsibility lies with each individual. The government is a third-party that comes into play when individual desires clash and an arbitrator is required. The law performs this function. The government can also be a hub for resources that are best pooled. National defense for example, is a common goal that is best vested in a single representative entity (rather than each citizen bearing arms).

When citizens become dependent on the government for needs other than this, tyranny arises. Fulfillment of needs is the bait through which tyranny takes hold. Tyranny and abuse of power can never arise in a nation where the majority of citizens understand the true purpose of government. The road to turning Sri Lanka into such a nation is a long one. We need to educate the public on the true mechanics of politics.