BMICH a has-been

I was one of the many who saw the foundations being laid to the BMICH. And remember quite fondly, having worked one day, mixing cement along with my colleagues at the government department where I worked then. It was a great pride to see Sri Lanka getting a conference hall of international class.
I have attended several events at the BMICH and was aghast at the rundown condition of this once beautiful hall. The BMICH is in a distressing condition. There is nothing international about it: the carpets rundown and torn, the main ‘red’ carpet is wretched and disfigured, the staircase carpets are so dirty that they are black, the committee rooms lack maintenance and are shabby; public address systems don’t function properly. Massive loudspeaker monstrosities hired from contractors, have to be plunked on the stage, obstructing the stairways to the stage. This creates a safety nightmare as well adding to another safety trap of having only one main gate open: all traffic in and out has to pass through one narrow lane and gate. This is mockery of the original design; intended for one gate ‘in’ and one gate ‘out’, besides being a safety risk.
Above all, the air-conditioning is a disgrace. The faint ‘cooling’ at the beginning of an event, gives way, as the hall gets filled. Within a short while, the hall and the committee rooms become a furnace, with temperatures rising to 27C-32C. The biggest indictment of the system was there for the whole country to see, when the last Sarasaviya film awards were telecast: the chief guest speaking on that occasion could be seen, in-close-up, dripping with pespiration. What was not shown was that almost everyone in the auditorium was in a similar predicament. The outside was cooler than the inside!
When the air-conditioning is in such a parlous state, there is massive investment made on additional buildings dotting the site and on a 1000 KW standby generator. There have been funds for expansion but, not for proper maintenance of the main property, in the condition that befits it ‘international’ name.
It is our obligation to cherish and maintain the generous gift of the Chinese people, without disfiguring the good name of the great country, which gave us that gift. The current state of the BMICH, not only dishonors a gift given by the generous people but also, the name of the man after whom it is named, Are we in such a pathetic state, that we cannot sustain what is given? Who is running the BMICH? Or, are they ruining it, like most things given to us, ‘running’ it to the ground?
Romulus Silva


‘Be Lankan, buy Lankan’

Let us all welcome the campaign launched by the Maubima Lanka Foundation, whose good cause is to promote goods and services of Sri Lankan origin.
Sri Lanka, with its tropical climate and abundant natural resources, has all that is needed to make it a prosperous country. Legend has it that our forefathers even exported rice. The main reason for our country to come under foreign subjugation, was the abundance of these resources. Unfortunately, successive governments since independence, instead of making our needs ourselves, with the resources available within the country, encouraged imports and discouraged local products. Even agricultural products grown abundantly, are imported. It is no secret that one reason for the exacerbation of the ethnic conflict was the loss of market for the Jaffna farmers. This shortsighted and wrong policy of the Government then and now, has led the country to economic collapse and mounting foreign debts.
Therefore, it is heartening to see the Private Sector come forward to do something meaningful for the country.
The slogan ‘Be Lankan, Buy Lankan’, not only induces one to prefer Sri Lankan products but also, inculcates in one, a sense of patriotism, honesty, dignity of labour and hard work., all the ingredients to make a country prosperous.
U. M. G. Goonetilleke Mattegoda


Help keep CoL down

We are thankful to our Minister - Bandula Gunawardena, for taking constructive steps to bring down the prices of essential goods. He has granted duty concessions in the past, and are pleased to observe that VAT on the three items - chick pea, green gram and canned fish have been reduced from 15% to 5%. I appeal to importers/distributors to cooperate with our Minister in maintaining prices at an affordable level.
Importers should note that they have to comply with the VAT requirement. Budget Speech 2006, clearly stated that in respect of items liable for VAT at 5%, it was to be paid once and for all at the Customs. There is no subsequent VAT liability on sales and no VAT input credit is permitted. Therefore, importers should adopt the following procedure:
(a) Include the VAT payable at Customs, in the cost of the products;
(b) Do not charge VAT on their sales;
(c) Raise VAT Exempt/Excluded Invoices to all customers whether they are VAT registered or not. (no VAT breakup to be shown on invoice, even on request);
(d) When filling VAT Returns, not to insert this turnover under the column allocated for 5%, because there is no output VAT liability.
(e) Include VAT Input payment under Disallowable Input Tax;
(f) Show this VAT turnover, together with exempt I excluded turnover;
I suggest that Importers obtain clarifications from the Dept. of Inland Revenue and adhere to this requirement accordingly.
S.R. Balachandran


The Animal Welfare Bill

Where is the Animal Welfare Bill that the Law Commission presented to the President, for passage through Parliament? Everybody was agog with the news, that after almost a century of inaction, the issue was at last being addressed!
The Law Commission was pressurized to put out the report fast, after which, there was a spate of meetings and much talk. And then - as so often happens here - silence!
We hear that it has finally ended on the lap of the Ministry of Health, although the connection is not at all clear. Certainly, the animal world in this “Buddhist” land (which awakens every dawn to the classic call of the Buddha, “May all living beings be happy!”) is beset with physical and psychological traumas, resulting from the unbelievably cruel treatment by humans who, in turn, are affected by their own abuse, not to mention the fallout on the embittered envi­ronment, containing both. A sick spectacle indeed! But, were we not told some years ago, that it was this same Ministry that promised to implement the Bibile proposals, that are nowhere still in sight? And if projects are handled on a first-come-first-served basis, when will our animal proposals; reposing at the bottom of that ponderous In-Tray, ever see the light of day?
Surely, it would have been more sensible to entrust it to the “new” Ministry of Environment, which has been showing some surprising ripples of activity or, at least, rumblings! Is it not obvious, that all our animal welfare and Buddhist societies should unite to take a stand and demand immediate action? With the proviso that any shortcomings in the report should be rectified when the need arises? At least, let it be passed! Does anybody know what we are waiting for?
Prema Ranawaka-Das


Skyrocketing CoL and pensioners’ plight

Minister Karu Jayasuriya has a reputation for being magnanimous when it comes to redressing grievances of the aggrieved. The pensioners’ recent plea to him, to have the monthly pension slip restored, has borne fruit.
Nevertheless, appeals made to him through the “Letters to the Editor” column of your esteemed journal, to grant relief to the pensioners, who retired prior to January 01, 1997, by revising their pension, based on salary scales of public servants in force, at least as at 01.01.2004, have, unfortunately, gone unnoticed or, unheeded.
The election pledges of the UNP (of which he claims he is still a member) should be fresh in his memory. Updating the pensions of retired public servants, even beyond the year 2004, with every salary revision of public servants, is one such attractive promise.
As the then deputy leader of the party, he would have fully endorsed this stand taken by the authors of the election manifesto of the Presidential candidate of his party.
There is no reason why he should think differently now. The salaries of public servants have since been increased substantially in 2006.
Incidentally, parliamentarians have also had their salaries almost doubled recently. No one should grudge it either.
The skyrocketing CoL has dealt a severe blow to the pensioners in particular, among others. Prices of all essential commodities have shot up in geometric progression, with the dwindling value of the rupee as against the US$, Euro etc. Price of milk food has gone up too. Increase in bus fares is in the offing. Electricity, water and telephone bills have almost doubled. Good slice of the pension has to be set apart for meeting the ever rising drugs and medical bills.
It is high time the Minister of Public Administration gave serious thought to increasing the pensions of retired public servants struggling to make ends meet.
The good doer will be rewarded in this very life, “Ditthadhamma Vedaniya Kamma” principle coming into operation. Minister Jayasooriya, a Buddhist leader knows it well.
Suffering Pensioner


Will Iran trump the US?

Once again the US, with nine ships, including two aircraft carriers and 17,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, conducted military exercises with the object of threatening Iran to give up its nuclear programme. On May 11, US Vice President Dick Cheyney, standing on board the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS John Stennis, threatened that the US, together with her allies , would not permit Iran to block the Hormuz straits, in the event of war.
Following Cheney’s threats, President Ahamadinejad, on May 13, on a visit to the UAE, said that Iran would retaliate with ferocious severity to any possible attack by the US on her nuclear facilities. Every time the US uses threatening language against Iran, Iran is quick to threaten the US with retaliation. Iran is confident that her missiles will cause enough and more damage to the US.
During his visit to the UAE, President Ahmadinejad also called for an end to the presence of US troops in the Persian Gulf, and for countries in the Persian Gulf to break their alliances with the US and join Iran in a security arrangement.
President Ahmadinejad, on a previous occasion, remarked that he was not worried by the presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf, as it would be easy to target them, if they were there. In addition, Iran could block the Hormuz Straits and create havoc for US troops in Iraq. All this will cause the price of oil to skyrocket and affect the global economy. The US is well aware of this scenario. That is why they have, for a long time, limited themselves to verbal threats only. Iran too is aware of the limits of US power, especially, since it is bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq and no amount of resolutions initiated by the US in the UN, will halt Iran from proceeding with her nuclear programme.
The US, which called Iran a State in the axis of evil, has now been compelled to talk to Iran on the security situation in Iraq. The first meeting took place on Monday May 28, in Iraq. Foreign Minister Manaoucnher Mottaki had this to say of the meeting in Iraq, “the two sides can be hopeful about the outcome of the negotiation, if America develops a realistic view towards Monday’s talks, admits its wrong policies in Iraq, decides to change them and accepts its responsibilities. It is believed that very little progress will be achieved, as there is mutual recrimination against each other, and in the latest development, Teheran said that it had uncovered spy rings organized by the US and its western allies.
Currently, the US strategy of containment, launched aggressively against Iran in January, is not succeeding, just as the parallel “surge” of US troops in Iraq. The invasion of Iraq by the US, has now turned out to be a nightmare. The US is also painfully aware that for all its military might, it has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran has grown as a regional power beyond all expectations and holds the ace to trump the US which now appears to be a sick giant. Political analyst and students of political science are keenly watching the unfolding events in the confrontation between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Saybhan Samat



IWMI responds to Green Nation

I write with reference to an article which appeared in page 10 of The Nation of June 24th, under the title “Water, water everywhere in bottles”. This article draws attention to the issue of water privatisation with particular emphasis on the bottled water market, and unfortunately links the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to this issue. From a reader’s perspective it could appear that IWMI promotes the privatisation of water and is having “closed door” meetings with policy makers in the country including the Ministry of Irrigation. The article refers to discussions at a recent Sri Lanka Consultative Committee meeting held at IWMI, on various research projects. These projects, however, have no connection whatsoever to water privatization. We would therefore like to explain more about IWMI and its research. First of all, IWMI’s mandate does not cover drinking water, but focuses on water for agriculture, while also studying the effects on the environment around us. The word “water management” in our title does not mean “controlling water and its uses” but rather looking at how water can be made accessible to all in the most sustainable way. IWMI’s research has shown that access to water is indeed a pathway out of poverty, and that water should be made available to the poor. The references to the “Podium” and “The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture” appearing in the article have no connection to water privatization. The Podium-SIM model is simply a planning tool developed by IWMI, which policy makers and planners can use to explore the complex relationships between the many factors that affect water and food security. It can be applied both locally and globally, as indeed had already been done by India and China. The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (CA) is a recently concluded international study which drew on the expertise of over 700 scientists and practitioners around the world. It studied the past fifty years of global water management and provided practical recommendations (none of which refer to water privatization) for handling the water challenges of the next fifty years. During the Sri Lanka Consultative Committee meeting it was discussed that the CA recommendations could be used by policy makers, and development agencies as well as by universities for curriculum development. I would also like to mention that the text which appears in boxes alongside the main story has no connection to what is being said in the main article. Even the picture of water bottles is misleading, as IWMI’s research does not include drinking water as stated before.
— Dr. Sarath Abayawardana, Head – Sri Lanka Programme, International Water Management Institute

Reporter’s note: The attempt of privatising water in Sri Lanka is a process extant since the 1980s. It’s however noteworthy, all such processes have employed, and are still employing, stealthy means of luring government officers and thereby pushing forward the agendas on water privatization. Speaking differently, you could not expect one to attempt privatize water directly under the label of “Water Privatization”, but rather you could expect one to do it under the guise of many alluring projects and packages. Therefore when analysing the issues pertaining to water privatization, we would look to various relevant projects, their implications and hidden agendas, rather than pursue after projects labelled “Water Privatisation”. Through the article specified in your letter, The Nation did analyse some of the projects, their potential implications and their interrelatedness with respect to water privatisation in Sri Lanka. However, nowhere in the article was it mentioned that the IWMI was going to bottle water for sale. Yet we did specify that the IWMI was holding discussions with a particular multinational, which happened to be the top figure in the global bottled water industry. You have also said that the information in the boxes weren’t related to the main article. Please note that, as stated in the introduction of the article, the prime purpose of the article was to reveal the latest facets pertaining to water privatization. The rest of the boxes hinted at several other facets of the same issue.









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