Fake news scares, vested interests delaying Sri Lanka govt decision making: Harsha

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government decision making gets delayed as it has to grapple with vested interests and public agitation stirred by rumor and false facts which ignore scientific evidence, a key policymaker, deputy minister Harsha De Silva said.

Agitation caused by rumour-mongering has forced the government to spend time and effort to tackle a range of issues from opposition to free trade deals, to a fake sterilization scare and fears about oil palm cultivation, he told the annual meeting of the Palm Oil Industry Association.

He recalled how he was slandered for his efforts to introduce a state-sponsored emergency ambulance service funded by India that is now widely used without any fusss.

“I was attacked mercilessly, thrown buckets of mud at and attacked personally when I started the 1990 Suva Sariya pre hospital care ambulance service,”  said de Silva, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs.

“…vested interest, sometimes are so strong, they protest, even lifesaving services.

“So here I see a classic problem, a wicked problem as some people say; you present one set of facts and somebody else presents another set of facts. Whose facts are correct?”

De Silva referred to the mass sterilization scare where a Muslim doctor was alleged to have sterilized Sinhala-Buddhist women which turned out to be a fake story spread by the doctor’s own hospital colleagues and the police in the area.

“(The) case is irresponsible journalism,” he said.

Another recent example was the MCC (Millenium Challenge Corporation) grant by the United States where it was alleged the government was going to build a corridor from Colombo to Trincomalee.

“It was alleged that on either side of this corridor, one kilometer each, we will want to fence it, we were going to divide this nation into north of Colombo-Trincomalee highway and South of Colombo-Trincomalee highway,” de Silva said.

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“The Singapore Free Trade Agreement, how much false information that spread around that,” he added.

“It was rumored that the Singapore Free Trade Agreement would bring in plane loads of Singaporeans to take our jobs. It was absolute bunkem.”

The palm oil industry in Sri Lanka has gained a lot of bad coverage due to a report published by Central Environmental Authority (CEA) which the industry officials says is baseless.

A draft study by the CEA, on which much of the opposition is based, was not signed by four of seven members of the panel which prepared it and contained several wrong conclusions, according to Asoka Nugawela, a professor in the faculty of agriculture and plantation management at the University of Wayamba.

De Silva drew conclusions from these issues saying, “It is a problem that we, as a society face. The way to go about it is evidence. Unless you are able to scientifically, and economically present the evidence.

“Take the discussion away from those who want to profit or perhaps for whatever vested interest they have to stop it and give the decision to be made on an evidence based transparent mechanism,” de Silva said.
(COLOMBO, 27 August 2019)