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How realistic is the CoL allowance?

When President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as Finance Minister, delivered the 2008 Budget speech in Parliament, there was a thundering applause from the government benches. That was when he disclosed that all public servants would be paid an increased cost of living (CoL) allowance of Rs. 2,500 with effect from January 2008. The proposed increase is Rs. 375 per month.

Retired public servants are paid a monthly CoL allowance of Rs. 1,062.50 at present.
Although there was no specific mention of any increase in the CoL allowance of pensioners, it is presumed that their CoL allowance would also be increased by Rs.187.50 from January 2008, as has been done during the current year.
The increase of Rs. 375 is hardly sufficient to meet the increased expenses of milk powder alone. The price of a packet of milk power has gone up by Rs. 60. The prices of all essential commodities have escalated in geometric progression in the recent months: Electricity, water and medical bills have shot up as well.

In fact, the CoL index computed by the government warrants a monthly CoL allowance of at least Rs. 6,000. If so, how realistic is the present CoL allowance of Rs. 2,500 in the case of public servants and Rs. 1,062.50 in the case of pensioners.
Trade unions recently clamoured for a salary increase of Rs. 3,000 expecting immediate relief. Pensioners in particular appealed to Minister Karu Jayasuriya reminding him of the election pledges given during the presidential election campaign. Some pensioners who have faith in him sang hosannas through the readers’ columns of national newspapers extolling, his ‘overtly’ magnanimous qualities. They have been proved wrong. Their appeals have unfortunately gone unheeded. God save the pensioners! Long live the cabinet of 109 ministers!
An aggrieved pensioner


Ban loudspeakers!

Imposition of and by sound. That’s what I call the incessant loud, indecipherable and meaningless incantations that emanate from the Buddhist temple loudspeakers and the street comer Buddha statue loudspeakers.
If these loud and intrusive sounds are meant to drown out every other sound and promote Buddhist principles as the loudest and so the best, then they have succeeded partly, but certainly at the expense of a large minority, if not the majority, who are irritated, disturbed and annoyed at the nuisance these loudspeakers cause.

The original offenders, since it is an offence, were the mosques, with their early morning call to prayer, and since such devices did not exist in the times of the prophet, its usage, though initially an advantage, has now lost its relevance. It is the same with other purportedly religious cacophony.
Modern day provides for personal options when practicing religion, without intruding into others’ lives. Radio, TV, CD, DVD and other forms of electronic media provide access to any religion at any time. Why then loud speakers? Early morning bana has been available on radio for well nigh 40 years.

It is a statement that reverberates very loud and clearly that the law can be broken in the name of religion. I cannot single out Buddhists or Muslims. Christians, of various denominations, too during times of feasts and other merrymaking and observances use loudspeakers, without concern to the public at large, as do the Hindus, but to a lesser degree.
Using loudspeakers in the name of religion therefore becomes a common factor, the most significant being that the majority appears to impose their will on the minorities, as was done similarly with language some time back. The result of which is now evident. Can we not learn from our mistakes?

If the government departments propagate the use of loudspeakers for their routine functions, it then becomes legal de facto.
Offending sounds come in various forms in addition to religious use, lottery vendors, loud radio use, neighbours’ dogs, vehicle air horns and exhausts, musical shows and industrial noises from various factories.
It is basically their levels that are offensive and a nuisance. Laws to prosecute such nuisances are available, though their enforcement is visibly lacking.

It must also be noted that all of these sounds, especially those from loudspeakers, are offensive not only to humans but to the avifauna as well. I would invite scientific conformation of this.
Indiscriminate use of loudspeakers and proliferation of sound without concern to others is very uncivilised, besides being illegal. I would welcome any enactments that ban the use of loud speakers, and I exhort the government to first show intent by enforcing the already existing nuisance laws.

D. M. Balasuriya


To whom it may concern!

Existing power devolution is sufficient

A fact that people in Sri Lanka do not appreciate is that there had been devolution of power from the colonial times in this country.
The problem with us is the present generation that controls the media, whether printed or electronic, does not know the history and culture, or even the political and social aspects of the country – simply because they have not been educated in history at school since 1970s.

For instance, a person born in 1970 is 37 years old today, and is almost entering the middle age in his life. But being brought up, especially under ‘open economy,’ he hardly understands the ‘life and times of the Lankans’ prior to 1977. It was truly a quite different world to that of today.

Can he or she believe that in 1970 a gallon of petrol (4 1/2 liters) was only Rs. 4 and the return air ticket to London was only Rs. 4,000 with all the comforts including hotel accommodation at transit?
An ordinary village family could manage a week with about Rs. 25 because of the rice ration book with coupons. With that, all the essential commodities including rice, sugar, dhal, Maldive fish could be obtained from the co-operative shop, subsidised at a very low price.

Every citizen, irrespective of age, could enjoy this benefit of the rice ration card, which had to be handed over to the food controller when going abroad for long durations, exceeding one year.
With respect to devolution of power, members of all the local government institutions throughout the country are elected by the popular vote. These are governed by various political parties representing the prominent ethnic group of the locality.
For instance, Jaffna Municipal Council is not run by the Sinhalese of the south but by Tamils of the north. Until he was gunned by the LTTE in 1975, Alfred Dureiappa (SLFP) was the Mayor in Jaffna.

Today, local government institutions in the north and east are not functioning due to the prevailing conditions of terrorism.
The power of Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) is today in the hands of minorities, especially when considering that Colombo is not only the capital of Sri Lanka, but also the heart of all Sri Lankans. We have had different mayors in CMC representing different ethnic groups and political parties: For instance, Rudra Rajasingham in early 50s and Dr. N.M. Perera (LSSP) in 1955 and also, several Muslim mayors (UNP).

Similarly, the power of the other municipal councils, urban councils and town councils, village councils of the country are governed by the prominent ethnic group of the area.
So, it is worth mentioning here that the British, who carved the nine provincial units in about 1887, did not devolve power to the provinces, but only to the local government bodies. This was done in order to make sure that there was no interference or hindrance to the civil administration of the country. To make sure the smooth functioning of the local bodies they were tactful and intelligent enough to decide on the devolution unit based on the extent of the country and the affordability and essentiality of the staff for the management of the same.

But the devolution of power for the provinces has become the topic of the day, which could have been implemented by the British in 1887, if they thought and felt that it was reasonable and suitable for a country like Sri Lanka.
All citizens have witnessed what is happening in Parliament and the country, and how the minority MPs are behaving from time to time, even without the proposed devolution.

Anybody can imagine the future trends and possibilities as well as the consequences that could crop up once the so-called devolution of power takes place. Then the consequences of curtailing the powers of the President and the present legislature and judiciary will be felt.

All S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike policies were centred around making Sinhala the official language of the country, which helped him (SLFP) to come to power. The Sinhala Only Act was passed in Parliament in 1956 by Prime Minister Bandaranaike. Being born in 1956 and also being an advocate of federalism, how dare Mangala Samaraweera preach us on the implementation of policies of the SLFP!

The present day media operators are clueless about these things which happened about 50 years ago. The present generation, which I mentioned at the beginning, are hell bent in making Mangala Samaraweera ‘a card board hero’ for the new generation.
The minority Tamils, with their aspirations, have become ‘a supreme lot,’ not only for the politicians and most of the media personnel, but also at the same time they all have developed a ‘Prabha–phobia’ that they are rather reluctant or scared to publish direct news affecting LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in the media.

‘Come, behold this world, how it resembles an ornamented royal chariot in which fools flounder, but for the wise there is no attachment to it’ - Dhammapadaya

S.A.P. Subasinghe


To keep CoL at a low ebb

Inflation is known by civil society as the upward movement of the prices of all goods. It could be caused by the shortage of goods or by the surplus of money in the hands of the citizenry.
With a surplus of money chasing a short supply of goods, the inevitable result is the escalation of prices. Workers will agitate for more. Farmers will jack up prices of their produce. The net result will be that the government, banking and lending institutions will be activated to finance the need.

The government, however, has the responsibility to keep living costs at a low ebb, while simultaneously developing the economy. Infrastructure facilities such as roads, bridges, waterways and irrigation tanks and reservoirs have to be repaired, maintained and expanded to meet the envisaged expansion. Even buildings have to come up. All such activity will need money, which will flow into the hands of the citizenry finally.

With money weighing heavy in their pockets, they will be more lavish in their spending. The hawkish trader and shop keeper will draw up prices on everything within their reach, compelling the government to contemplate legislation to jail profiteers to curb the offence.

The development of this country and its economy, unfortunately, has taken a political twist bringing on criticism from many quarters, though one would expect cooperation in the onerous task of developing this country.
Some media institutions, though registered as national newspapers, conduct themselves like political party papers emphasising the resultant increase in costs of goods, without explaining to its readers and the ignorant that the phenomenon is the consequence of development funds flooding the money market for the development of the country’s economy and not wanton reckless spending.
The political opposition has made it a hurdle to acquire political mileage though it is caused in the government’s attempt to develop the economy.

It was indeed surprising to read a newspaper carrying a criticism by a person described as a senior consultant economist, sporting a PhD accusing the government of fiscal profligacy. The development of the homeland of all Sri Lankans is thus being politicised.
To finance development, the state has to raise money through direct and indirect taxes, or borrow from foreign sources. Interest rates move up. The borrower will resent it, but the lender revels in it. If the lender is in business, he will invest it in his business to expand. If not, he will deposit the proceeds in a bank that will not keep the money idle in its vault but lend or invest it in some lucrative venture resulting in the economy getting a push-up. The critics are those politically opposed to the government, though the reality is that they are putting obstacles in the path of development of the homeland.

Unfortunately, this country is a democracy in which all propositions, good or bad, are opposed. Commercial banks always have their eyes and ears open to grab at a windfall. Similarly, another bank is paying attention to its agricultural clientele in Homagama. It will snowball with the economy moving up. The Mahinda Chinthana is showing results. The banks have reversed their modus operandi and now dole out interest free loans to those venturing out in agriculture or business.

When the People’s Bank was first opened on the instigation of the late Phillip Gunewardena, then Agriculture Minister, to stimulate farming, those who manned the Bank believed that the institution’s profit was the preponderant motive in banking.
A poultry farmer who put out approximately 5000 eggs a day with a output of 200 broilers a week had to mortgage his farmland and other property for a measly loan of Rs. 5,000 at the preposterous interest of 15% subject to a penalty rate of 20% in the event of default or delay.

Those who moan over the cost of living should know that the bugbear manipulating prices is the politically manipulated trader. That ruse will not live long, for it will be swamped by the rapidly growing economy.

I.L.P. Samarasinghe
Colombo 10


Business Today top 10 awards – Shocking win for Distilleries

Most of the English dailies gave a lot of publicity to the Business Today awards ceremony when the 10 top corporates selected by such magazine were felicitated at the Presidential Secretariat.

It is understood that even the President himself made a brief appearance just to give away the awards for the 10 ‘top’ corporates.
It appears that Business Today is only looking at the financial performance of the companies and does not take into consideration important elements such as corporate governance, business ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

If these important factors were taken into consideration, Distilleries Corporation of Sri Lanka (DCSL) and Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) could not have got into the top 10.

Anyway even leaving aside CSR, it is shocking how Distilleries, which is under investigation by Customs for a massive duty fraud, was selected as the number one company out of the top 10 companies of Sri Lanka. This speaks well for the corporate governance in Sri Lanka.

I am appalled that the other respectable corporates who were featured accepted their awards without having the strength of character to reject this award.
It is reported that an official from Business Today who spoke on behalf of the company made a plea to the audience to support their three magazines, stating that only Sri Lanka Insurance, which is a group company of Distilleries, advertises in its new political magazine, TARGET. Is that any clue as to how the selections were done?

– Lilani Lokuhettige






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