Is there any peaceful co-existence?

There is an effort by some religious leaders to bring about what they term as ‘religious amity’ and ‘peaceful co-existence’ in this country. If they truly achieve this goal, there is no doubt that the citizens of this country will be ever grateful to them.

In the far off, remote village of Angulakolawewa, Thanamalwila in the Hambantota district, just before Christmas, we heard of the untimely mysterious death of a relatively young committed Buddhist monk, Ven. Rathmalane Seelawanse Thera. He went to reside at the Thanamalwila Sri Rathanasara Buddhist Centre, Angunakolawewa in 2001 when the temple became vacant due to mysterious disappearances of a number of monks who went to reside in the village and work for the welfare of the villagers in the area. As early as 1980s, Ven. Rathanasara Thera who lived there died a mysterious death at the hands of enemy forces. Subsequently, all monks who went to live in that temple faced a lot of harassment and eventually were forced to leave the village until Ven. Seelawanse Thera went to live and work for the welfare of Angunakolawewa.

Ven. Rathmalane Seelawanse Thera was a fearless and hardworking monk, who took it on himself to bring about a change to the lives of young villagers. Due to his hard work, he was able to provide electricity for this village, renovate the lake so that villagers had continuous supply of water, established 18 pre-schools to educate the Buddhist children in the area and also conducted a Dhamma school in the temple. He offered scholarships to needy children whose families were economically badly off, for them to get an uninterrupted education. However, his constructive activities in the area, were an eye-sore to over zealous anti-Buddhist forces operating in the area who were benefiting from the famous ‘ganja plantations’ of the area. A conspiracy was cooked up to defame the monk and slur his reputation by implicating that he had molested a girl in the village. During the last three years, the venerable monk was continuously hounded by police entries, court cases filed against him on various trumped up charges and the final blow came when he was mysteriously killed in the night on December 19 in his temple room. The criminals had bashed his head and face, used a blunt tool to stab him three times in the chest and left him to bleed to death without any help at all. A couple of days later, the decomposed body of Ven. Seelawanse Thera was found by the police when they received a call to the emergency no.119 when the caller had informed the police that the monk was dead in the temple. The body was removed to the Hambantota Hospital on December 23, 2006, in a decomposed state. On December 24, 2006, after conducting the post-mortem, the verdict was ‘homicide.’

Ven. Seelawanse Thera had informed the police on many occasions that his life was in danger and that he was receiving constant threats but no construction action was taken to bring the criminals to book! The criminals on the other hand, became more and more aggressive in their campaign against him and marked their time, until they were able to get him when he was most unprepared and made sure that they finished him off for good! It is hoped that what the authorities could not do for him while he was living, will at least be able to provide him justice even after his death. Irrespective of what religion one believes, there is a decency and morality that is expected if the concept of “live and let live” needs to be fostered. Human life is too precious to be destroyed purely for the personal whims and fancies of individuals who may be adversaries- difference of opinions will exist but revenge in the form of committing murder to eliminate one’s enemy must not be permitted to become the order of the day. Unfortunately in the case of Ven. Seelawanse Thera, the adversaries were very much at large operating in the village but the authorities who were also in their pay, did nothing to even “seem to be doing their duty.”

We have read in the newspapers about a ‘dane’ that was offered at Bishop’s House to the Maha Sangha in the hope that religious amity could be fostered. Why did this concept not work in the case of Ven. Rathmalane Seelawanse Thera? Are there double-standards that are practised? No doubt, Buddhists who knew Ven. Seelawanse Thera and of his service to Thanamalwila, are shocked and saddened by the injustice meted out to him. In life, his life was in danger and in death, it was thought that even his dead body would not be safe in Thanamalwila as it was too obvious that human beings with inhumane qualities were ruling the lives of those helpless villagers. Let us hope that a true and impartial investigation into his death will reveal to everyone who the criminals behind this dastardly act are and punish them as a deterrent against similar acts in the future.

May he attain the supreme bliss of nirvana!


An open letter to the President on pensions

The much publicised presidential intervention and subsequent cabinet approval for the formulation of regulations, entitling pension benefits for the Volunteer Women’s Corp personnel in the Armed Forces retiring after 15 years of services, equivalent to those retiring from the Regular forces after 22 years of service, has been widely appreciated.
This is an open letter to bring to your kind notice that in the same Armed Forces the Regular Commissioned Medical and Dental Officers retiring not after 15 years of service but after 35 years of service, are made to retire as civilians on a civilian pension minute and are deprived of all the pensionable allowances particular to the service personnel they received during their entire service tenure, in the Armed Forces, based on a regulation promulgated in 45 years ago, in 1961 at a time when there were no pension able allowances in the Army Pay Code.

The Ceylon Government Gazette Extraordinary published in September 1961 states that; Every Medical and Dental Officer, shall be entitled to receive all other allowances as are payable to officers, in terms of and conditions laid down in the Army Pay Code and the rates of pay and allowances of the of Medical and Dental officers of the Army shall be revised to equate them to those recommended and accepted at any future date for Medical and Dental officers in the Department of Health Services.

All allowances received by service personnel were non-pension able allowances, until Jan 1, 1985. The Ration Allowance authorised by MOD letter D/39/H (VI) of Jan 25, 1978 implemented with effect from Jan 1st 1978, the Qualification Pay and the Good Conduct Pay were made Pension able allowances by a cabinet memorandum in 1988 to be effective with effect from 1st Jan 1985.

The only difference between the minutes of pensions as applicable to the Government Departments, and the Army Pensions and gratuity code is the calculation of pension using the percentages of the consolidated pay depending on the years of reckonable service as the service personnel could retire at the end of twenty-two years of service, in contrast to the optimum retirement age of fifty five years for Health Department personnel.

Pensions are calculated on a percentage basis to ensure that within reasonable limits a person can live comfortably in his retirement. The current unfortunate situation is that the pensions received by a retiring Service Medical or Dental Officer as a civilian is about Rs: 7500.00 less than the pension received by any one else in the entire Armed Forces because of the exclusion of the Pension able allowances particular to the service personnel for the calculation of the pensions which they did receive, during their entire service tenure.

As the Commander in Chief, Your Excellency we sincerely expect, “Your Kind Intervention” and grant us redress on the same guidelines, principles and policies that were used for the formulation of regulations, entitling Volunteer Women’s Corp’s personnel retiring after 15 years, benefits equivalent to those retiring from the Regular Forces after 22 years of service.

It is also pertinent to place on record that the total number of Medical and Dental Officers who had retired after serving over 35 years in the Armed Forces in the last twenty years could probably be even less than twenty people which is in fact the wasting rate.

The formulation of regulations to calculate pensions of service medical and dental officers using the percentages of the Army Pay Code after taking into account “All Pension¬able Allowances” received by them whilst in service and entitle them to retire as Service Personnel, remains the only just and fair proposition.

The only consolation a Regular Medical or Dental Officer, after giving his entire professional life to the Armed Forces enjoys now, as a terminal benefit on retirement is his last rites to be buried or cremated as a serviceman whilst, from the Date of Retirement till his Death he is treated, as just another civilian on a Civilian Pensions Minute.
Brig (Dr.) Tilak N. Senanayke (Rtd.)


Travel advisories still in force

• Strong travel advisories continue to be enforced.
• Consequently, most hotels are finding that there have hardly any new bookings coming in.
• January – March 2007 occupancy levels are looking very poor.
UK Market
• UK advisories still remain relatively ‘softer’.
• According to reports, First Choice (one of the largest UK outbound Tour Operators) is scheduled to re-start their charter flight to Sri Lanka in February 2007 (First Choice originally had charter flights to Sri Lanka, which were suspended in November 2006, and is scheduled to re-start in February 2007).
• However, if they do not have good load factors, there is a very real threat that First Choice may re-consider their charter flights to Sri Lanka.
• Having a Charter flight operating into Sri Lanka is very advantages under the present circumstances. It will lend credibility to the destination, and there will be volume-business generated, since the operator will somehow push to have the charter flight seats filled. Hence the re-starting of the First Choice charter flight is an important issue for Sri Lankan tourism, at the present juncture.
Government support for hotels
• An appeal has been made by Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) to the Tourism Ministry requesting for a moratorium on loans taken by hotels.
• THASL has also requested for temporary exception from VAT payment for a stipulated period to enable the industry to recover from the present crisis.
• The Industry is hopeful that the Government will give a sympathetic hearing to their appeal.
Consumer Campaign
• Plans have been finalized in consultation with the Ministry, Tourist Board and the National Airline regarding a consumer campaign in the UK market to be launched in early 2007.
• This will be in partnership with select UK tour operators, who have been handling a large volume of business to Sri Lanka. The partnership will be on a 50% cost sharing basis.
• The Ministry and the Tourist Board has assured the trade that funds for this campaign will be forthcoming from the Government.
• Another direct consumer campaign is being finalized for China and Middle East with Sri Lankan Airlines.
Electricity Shock
• The new electricity tariff coming into force has afforded some relief to industries, but excluded the Hotel industry, making a distinction that Hotels do not fall into the industrial category.
• Firstly there is no rationale to eliminate hotels from the industrial category when successive governments considered Hotels as a ‘Thrust Industry’ and the fact that hotels are the fourth largest foreign exchange earner of the country. In fact hotels would perhaps be the one of the most ‘value adding industries’, where almost 100% local ‘ raw material’ is transformed into services and products, and the resulting revenue is predominately in foreign exchange (unlike certain other industries).
• Secondly, it is quite illogical to offer the industries in general, (some of which are not adversely effected by present security situation) several concessions, while at the same time, excluding these concessions from the hotel industry, which is suffering the most under the present circumstances
ITB Berlin March 2007
• The ITB tourism fair in Berlin is the world’s largest tourism event and Sri Lanka is preparing plans for participation.
• The Tourism Ministry and the Tourist Board is endeavouring to have 50% of the stall charges to be waived off this year for participating companies.
• THASL wholeheartedly welcomes these efforts.
Other matters
• Several discussions were held with industry representatives and the Acting Minister of Tourism Mr Faizer Mustapha, and an update of the on going issues affecting the tourism industry, including the still un-implemented New Tourism Act, was reviewed by him.

Srilal Miththapala
Vice President
Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka