The (US) Tropical Forest Conservation Act: Flogging Dead Horses
by Dr. W. W. D. Modder,
President, The National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka

"There has never been a dead horse with such a vicious kick."— Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine

Rohan Pethiyagoda’s response (Sunday Island, 19 June 2005) to the Academy’s concerns on the (US) TFCA (Sunday Island, 12 June) is essentially a damp squib.

How does Mr. Pethiyagoda know that the US offer to Sri Lanka on the TFCA lapsed over an year ago? With the sort of self-assurance coming from a smoke-filled room, he says simply it has. If so, no one told us.

He says we are therefore flogging a dead horse. Unfortunately, dead horses have a way of resurrecting: witness the recent, brave sequel, Eppawala Rides Again.

Mr. Pethiyagoda himself flogs two dead or moribund horses in his response.

The document from the Academy’s Council, which I mediated, carefully set the parameters for the explication of our concerns. If a blazoning forth in the title and the sub-titles does not register, even a pedestrian reading of simple English would show beyond doubt that the document was addressing the issue of the TFCA, the whole TFCA, and nothing but the TFCA.

Mr. Pethiyagoda dusts our very real concerns about the TFCA off his hands 3("tempting as it is," he says, "to draw attention to the wealth of misinformation, speculation and fantasy" therein), and goes wandering off into a welter of speculation and fantasy of his own. He expresses shock, and misinterprets our opposition to any non-governmental organization serving on the administrative body of a foreign-funded project, as applying to projects involving NGO assistance and foreign funds given, firstly, for our compatriots ravaged and pauperized by the tsunami and, secondly, for saving Sri Lanka’s threatened species and biodiversity. This is classic non sequitur. This is where he flogs a totally dead horse.


Our opposition is only with regard to NGOs serving on, as we say, "administrative bodies of this sort", to wit those governing a national resource, in this case Sri Lanka’s state forests. We are opposing the provisions in Section 809 of the TFCA. Surely this is quite clear? By not seeing this, and by attempting to divert the attention of readers away from where we focus it, namely the TFCA’s Section 809, and re-focusing on the foreign and local assistance that everyone knows our country stands in desperate need of, Mr. Pethiyagoda disdains both our intelligence and our humanity, and lays some of his own attributes open to disdain in the process.

We know we have excellent laws in this country; if we fail, it is in their implementation. As Mr. Pethiyagoda seems also to recognize, laws are in place for protecting our forests; it is in managing them that we tend to fall short.

Mr. Pethiyagoda makes a necessarily very limited but useful catalogue of what is wrong with the wild and the wet in this country, but then goes off the mark somewhat and belabours the Academy for not "addressing such complex and pressing problems", and not seeking "to integrate science into conservation practice".

Here he is flogging another horse, the Academy. Some might say that it is dead or moribund; some might say that it is rearing to go. Many of us of course subscribe to the latter view. We have recently been inviting Fellows, in our web page and elsewhere, to volunteer to get more directly involved in giving ideas, initiating activities and coming together for the nation’s good. I do not recall seeing Mr. Pethiyagoda’s name among the respondents, or in workshop attendance lists.

That notwithstanding, Mr. Pethiyagoda seems pleased that he is a Fellow of our Academy, because he makes known that important fact in the opening sentence of his article. Will he then not descend from Mount Olympus and join us ordinary Fellows in attempting to integrate science into national life and development?


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