|Friday, 13 February 2004|
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A right choice
While the Government and its supporters are bound to object to the President's decision to drastically prune down the number of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and other State functionaries, to the sensible majority this measure would appear a most rational course of action.
For overblown "governments" with their attendant panjandrums have been more a curse than a blessing to this country which has been reeling in deprivation and underdevelopment over the past 56 years - a period of "political independence."
Omnipotent and ubiquitous "governments", that is Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Ministers of non-Cabinet rank, State Ministers and their pervasive bureaucracies have been with us since the Eighties when successive UNP governments installed what came to be known as "facade democracies." In reality these were oligarchies, where a microscopic minority used overwhelming power and built around them bastions of might at the expense of the powerless majority. Why object, then, when these power centres are reduced to a minimum? Isn't this essential at a time when the country is moving towards another general election? After all, usually at such a time, we only have Caretaker Governments.
Besides, experience teaches us that overwhelming resources and power in the hands of the incumbent government in the lead-up to an election, often leads to power abuse. It places such governments at an unfair advantage over its opponents which lack transport facilities, for instance, for electioneering.
So, this decision by the President has an inherent correctness about it and could in no way be castigated as "dictatorial"; as the Government may now vociferously claim. Nevertheless, measures of this kind by the Executive Presidency should be assessed on the basis of the circumstances in which they are initiated. Under normal circumstances, the decision to dissolve Parliament and to call for a fresh poll, could prove controversial.
But these are by no means ordinary times. Right along, it was the wish of the President to have cohabitational governance with the UNF. It was for this reason that she willingly conceded Defence powers to the new government - although she was not constitutionally obliged to do so.
But, the UNF in its swollen headed arrogance bit the hand of cohabitation and friendship offered by the President.
The government has only itself to blame for the mess it is in.
Prescription for herbal industry
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued guidelines for ensuring the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines following reports that some products are tainted with toxic substances. These guidelines explain best techniques for growing and harvesting medicinal plants used for various ailments. Clear labelling of products is also included.
The soaring popularity of herbal medicines, even in Western markets, reflects a back-to-nature consciousness. They represent an estimated $60 billion a year global market, 20 per cent of the overall drug market. Apart from herbal medicines per se, many Western medicines are derived from plants.
South Asia has an indigenous system of medicine dating back thousands of years. The Ayurvedic drugs industry in Sri Lanka and India caters to a massive market. We have Ayurvedic hospitals and Ayurvedic drugstores in every major town.
Most herbal medicines in the market have not undergone a thorough testing and approval procedure. We do not know the conditions under which medicinal plants are grown and how they are processed into finished products. Are they grown organically or are pesticides/chemical fertilisers used ? The consumer has every right to know.
Vernacular newspapers carry countless advertisements on herbal cures for every ailment under the sun, from the common cold to diabetes. These herbal concoctions promise everything from greater vigour to great sex. Of course, there is no way to test these claims and to stop gullible buyers from spending a fortune on spurious products.
Tighter controls on herbal medicine manufacture and marketing, based on the WHO guidelines, are therefore essential. This is especially important in view of the export potential of some Sri Lankan herbal products. Further research must also be conducted on plants which may have medicinal properties. Saving our forests, many of whose plants have not been studied properly, is vital.
Amid the great emphasis placed on herbal products, little attention is focused on another aspect of the business: Ayurvedic treatments at hotels. Every other hotel seems to offer traditional herbal remedies. This industry is not regulated and standardised. Guests generally have no idea whether the hotels have competent Ayurvedic practitioners and genuine therapies. Health and tourism authorities must look into this matter before the country's reputation for traditional healing practices is sullied.
Produced by Lake House