Wednesday, 29 September 2004  
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President's stature reconfirmed

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's address to the 59th General Assembly sessions has earned for her a stature and eminence which is hard to come by among local political leaders, both past and present. The bouquets and tributes lavished on her for this speech are both numerous and exceedingly noteworthy for their revealing contents.

For instance, Dayan Jayatilleke, one of our most knowledgeable political analysts who should be knowing what he is talking about, said in a newspaper article recently that the President "has just proved in New York why the country is luckier to have her than Ranil Wickremesinghe as its leader, and why she is the best leader that Sri Lanka could have, given the available choices at this moment in history."

Jayatilleke went on to say that the President's UN address "was the best by a Sri Lankan Head of State or Government, barring - and bettered only by - her father's brilliant peroration in 1956 on the twin crises, Suez and Hungary"

Jayatilleke's observations are in accord with the comments we have been making right along about the quality of the President's leadership. As is well known, the peace process in this country was launched and sustained by President Kumaratunga.

She made a conscious and deliberate choice in favour of ethnic peace whereas it would have been politically expedient to take a soft line on Southern communalism, for instance. The President was bold enough to say that what we are confronted with in Sri Lanka is an ethnic problem and not a terrorist problem. True to this policy line, she has been trying to resolve the problem by political means, while saying no to the taking of human lives. It needs to be noted that we have had no ethnic violence since 1994 when President Kumaratunga came to the helm of affairs in Sri Lanka.

These policy parameters match President Kumaratunga's recent pronouncements at the UN. She clearly didn't cave in to populist pressure and endorse current positions on dealing with terror although she spoke out against bloodshed and the resolution of conflicts by the use of terror. As Dayan Jayatilleke said, "spineless silence" was not the President's option.

On the other hand, the President called for a seeking of the causes that lead to political violence. As we have maintained in this commentary right throughout, these causes should be eliminated if progress is to be made towards peace by Sri Lanka.

The latest moves by the President on the peace front, reconfirm her stature as a political leader who has pursued the path of a negotiated political settlement. The President's National Advisory Council concept is one of the boldest measures to date on forming a national consensus on the ethnic issue.

This countrywide consensus is the most pressing need at the moment. Without it, the peace effort would invite opposition from particularly Southern quarters and prove as still-born as the UNF-driven peace effort. Hat's off to the President for formulating a non-confrontational path to peace which will have the backing of all.

A healthy option

Our report yesterday on a 'novel initiative from Visakha Vidyalaya' would have gladdened the hearts of many parents. The 'novel initiative' is a program to promote healthy [food] habits among students and discourage cruelty to animals.

Under the program, students will be encouraged to eat healthy food and avoid snacks and fast food. Lectures will be organised to educate students on the same subject.

'Fast food' has become the staple diet of many schoolchildren in urban areas, mainly with the advent of international fast food giants to Sri Lanka. These fatty foods have little or no nutritional value, although it is definitely 'easy' to buy them rather than cook at home.

Most schoolchildren attending popular schools in Colombo and in the suburbs are from the middle/upper middle class. These families can afford to give their children a better, home-made breakfast or interval snack. It is true that most working parents have little or no time to prepare food in the morning, but they should strive to provide the children a healthier morning meal.

A bad diet has been found to be the root cause of health problems experienced by 90 per cent of schoolchildren. The Visakha Vidyalaya program aims to veer them away from junk food voluntarily. In this context, parents should also be educated on the importance of providing a balanced, nutritious diet to their sons and daughters. The mass media should be used extensively for this awareness program.

At the other end of the spectrum are poor families whose children go to school with an empty stomach. They live a world away from the neon signs of fast food outlets. The Government, together with the FAO, has implemented a number of programs to give nutritious meals to under-privileged children during school hours.

But there are some truths that apply universally to all social strata. Locally-sourced nutritious foods are abundant here and with the right knowledge, it is not difficult to prepare wholesome food and drinks that do not cost the earth. For example, many herb varieties used for 'Kola Kenda' (herbal porridge) can be picked up at little or no cost all over the country. A glass of Kola Kenda does wonders for one's health and it is a far better option than either going hungry or having a junk snack.

Other schools will want to follow the Visakha initiative closely. If successful, its scope should be widened to include other schools and educational institutions. We hope this program goes a long way towards making a healthy future generation.


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