|Tuesday, 5 October 2004|
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The decision by the UNP to boycott the initial session of the National Advisory Council on Peace and Reconciliation, convened by President Kumaratunga, is bound to have a demoralising impact on those sections which have been eager to see a resumption of the peace process.
We hope the UNP would reconsider its decision and join this forum even at a later date, now that President Kumaratunga has lucidly clarified issues which were taken up with her by the Leader of the Opposition.
As explained by the President, the NACPR would be a widely representative, deliberative and consultative forum which would make important inputs to the peace process but would in no way supplant the Government in negotiations with the LTTE. The NACPR would be representative of the country's political opinion as well as that of the civilian public.
While the Government would keep the Council informed of important developments in the peace effort, the Council in turn would keep the Government informed of public responses to emerging issues in the negotiatory process.
All in all, the Council will be a democratic instrument which would sentizise the peace effort to public perceptions on emerging issues. As explained by the President, the NACPR wouldn't be an instrument through which the Government would run away from its "total responsibility of seeking means of solving the conflict of the North East."
The UNF would do well to remember the lessons of history. The UNF's own peace effort run aground because it failed to include all important shades of opinion in it. Important "stakeholders" in the process were left out and no effort was made to form the all important national consensus on the ethnic conflict. The NACPR is aimed at overcoming this fundamental weakness.
If the UNF backs out of the current effort at resuming the peace effort, the country would indeed take several steps backward and ensure the destruction of yet another peace initiative. We call on the UNF to ponder long and deep on the implications of its negative stance. Does it intend saving this country or ruining it?
In fact, the UNP's attitude strikes us as being puerile. This species of childishness has bedeviled Lankan politics from early post-independence times, and, alas, our political elite is yet to overcome it. The present conduct of the UNF smacks of the mindless riotousness of the school boys who are out to sabotage a hallowed school event for no valid reason.
We appeal to all sections of the opposition to refrain from plunging the country once again into a labyrinth of failure. We have witnessed with excruciating agony how short-term political interest and selfish ambitions of politicians and parties have got in the way of Lanka emerging from the hellfires of this tragic conflict. We must turn a new leaf.
Sri Lanka is heavily dependent on fossil fuel imports. It would not be wrong to say that our economy practically runs on petroleum. But the catch is that we have to import it lock, stock and barrel, which costs millions of dollars monthly.
The outlook is even more dire because oil prices have shot up in the world market. A barrel of crude oil recently touched the US$ 50 mark. Even the developed countries are reeling under the economic consequences, leave alone the developing ones. Oil subsidies can only go so far in a developing country like ours.
It is therefore clear that we have to adjust to new circumstances, which might continue for some time. A little bit of give and take is called for in this exercise. We will have to practise austerity for the betterment of all.
Perhaps we can start with the ubiquitous automobile, by cutting down on the number of car journeys. Why not walk to the junction instead of taking the car ? Sometimes, travelling may not be necessary at all - just reach for the phone instead of the car keys.
Many countries impose a toll on cars entering the main city centre. Singapore has a toll for entering the Central Business District and London's Congestion Charge has decreased the number of cars entering the City. Several countries also stipulate that cars with only the driver cannot enter the city centre - there should be at least one other passenger.
Car pooling is another well-known practice, where several employees share their cars on given days of the week. The authorities must explore the possibility of introducing such concepts here.
Given the state of our public transport system, it will not be easy to lure motorists to give up the car. An extremely efficient, clean, well-run integrated public transport system could convince them to leave the cars at home or at a designated car park.
A subway seems to be an ideal solution. It will be a huge investment, but the long-term benefits in terms of savings on oil bills must be appraised. Alternatives to oil must also be considered. Hybrid engines (a combination of gasoline engine and an electric motor) are very fuel efficient and as a bonus, less polluting.
The authorities must seriously consider granting duty concessions for hybrid and all-electric cars, at least until hydrogen powered cars enter the mainstream around 10 years from now.
The high duties on diesel cars are also preventing the entry of vehicles equipped with the latest generation diesel engines, some of which can do well over 60 mpg. These restrictions must be reconsidered in the light of the oil crisis.
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