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Taking care of migrant workers- need of the hour

For sometime we have been told Sri Lanka has succeeded in persuading some governments in the oil-rich Gulf countries to pay a minimum wage of US$250 for unskilled workers and domestics. Minister Athauda Seneviratne told us this earlier to be followed by the celebrated Dr. Mervyn Silva. Now Minister Keheliya Rambukwella repeats the same thing.

Although the number of ministers and other political VIPs visiting the Middle-East in the past few years to “fight and get better wages and terms for our workers” will be in the hundreds, with the cost of these visits to the country in the billions of dollars, the accumulated benefit they have brought to our workers is negligible, as we learn. Then there is, of course, the vast army of “diplomats” we dispatch to these areas regularly whose performance clearly is no better than that of their ministerial superiors. Yet, the news of the increase of wages will be greeted well by the workers concerned - when they actually get the money in their hands.

This is an important component of foreign-exchange to the country from about 800.000 Lankans there. I have for long taken up the cause of not merely more reasonable wages, than the pittance of US$100 and thereabout monthly that most of these workers are condemned to. But also for more humane working hours, medical and other benefits. There is little doubt that if our embassy heads in the many countries in the Middle East had got their act together, our workers may have secured these benefits much earlier. But this was never to be. And, this is no fault of the workers. This is where our government comes in. On the other hand, countries like India have been using their diplomatic skill and muscle for the benefit of the larger numbers from their country in the region. Indian Ambassador in Bahrain Shri Balakrishna Reddy has used his influences with the government there to get higher wages for the large concentration of Indian Construction workers. They were earlier paid as low as Bahraini Dirhams 40 per monthly. The Ambassador working hand in hand with Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa - has secured for them monthly wages equivalent to Indian Rs.30,000 plus benefits. Comparatively, Arab nationals doing similar work get 7 times more.
As I have suggested before, much more can be secured for these hard-working men and women – torn away from their native soil; from their beloved ones and condemned to toil from dawn to dusk – merely in search of that pot of gold. The countries in the Gulf region have multiplied their wealth by the astronomical rise in oil revenues in recent years – from US$35 to over US$105 per barrel. One cannot envy them for that. It is their natural advantage. Conscience and morality has little to do in the process. But they could be persuaded to be better employers, more humane in their approach to these hapless workers.

In a feature programme this week in the increasingly popular TV Station Al Jazeera some of these workers were uncharitably described as “slaves” – particularly the women domestics. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is an economic grouping formed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE & Oman. 13 million workers – most from the Asian region – work in this region. Diplomatic pressure should be brought on the Council for a better deal to Asian workers, including our own. The assistance of UN agencies charged with the welfare of migrant workers should be solicited to add weight to the joint endeavour.

It is a well known fact that Arab employers have a different mind-set when it comes to dealing with workers in what would be called reasonable wages. It may be mentioned here the UK, West Europe, Australia and North America where thousands of Lankans work – countries we are always quick to criticise on different issues, reasonable wages and benefits are rarely matters of complaint. There is no reason at all why the governments of Indonesia, Bangladesh, Phillipines, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka – the largest providers of man power to the area, should not come together and ask for minimum basic wages for the different categories, more reasonable working hours, at least a days holiday in the week, medical/insurance facilities etc The Indian Embassies in the region insist on registration of all workers to include name/contact details of employers, right for the employees to contact the embassy by telephone etc something that we should follow as well.

Our workers who go to these countries to work in the harsh natural environment and sometimes subject to harsher treatment by the employers and/or members of their families. Many of our workers sadly return in coffins while some are said “to have committed suicide” due to cruel and degrading working conditions. Many have returned as cripples with broken limbs, subject to rape and so on. Of course, there are also a number of good and model employers in these countries to whom some of our workers wish to go back. I hope my comments will be viewed in perspective. The rich Middle East cannot do without Asian workers. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong in our government authorities to secure for these workers adequate compensation for the serious damage caused to their family life and unity – a sum commensurate with the risk and sacrifice these poor men and women take.
K. Arvind


The cement import fiasco

The local price of cement is around Rs. 850-1,000/50 for a one kg bag. This creates great difficulties to thousands of small consumers and the construction industry. Cement manufacturers here been bought over by powerful political interests and have formed themselves into an influential mafia, creating an artificial shortage. Cost of production is around Rs.550/bag of 50kg at today’s rates.

Responding to this’ artificial shortage, the government decided to import cement. Although from January the country was told that cement imported by the state sector will be here soon, till now there are no signs of any such imports.

It is also understood that the Cement Corporation has placed an order for 100,000 tons of Pakistani cement around US$ 65 pmt CIF some months ago. The successful Pakistani manufacturer has not provided the necessary Performance Bond (10% of value of order) till now. Please note cement prices worldwide are today over US$ 65 pmt FOB.

Meanwhile, the new State Trading Co-op Wholesale Ltd-under the ‘Trade Ministry-called a tender for 120,000 tons cement that closed on 14/2/2008. Prices from US$80 to US$135 pmt were received - which is an indication many of the offers received were not bona fide. It is understood a Pakistan cement manufacturer – personally backed by a minister and his officials - gave the award .secretly at US$ 74 per ton C & F. It is even -said this party did not have an offer when this tender was opened - a serious breach of regulations in any civilized society. This Pakistani party has not provided the required Performance Bond till last week, although we understand yesterday they sent a bond for 10,000 tons. It is again wrong to accept the bond of a party awarded 120,000 tons to send only 1/10th of the bond. It is not known if the bond said to be received is in enforceable condition. If not, officials concerned should be held responsible. In case this shipper fails to perform, Sri Lanka cannot claim on a defective bond and shall cut a very sorry figure.

The conspiracy is for the Pak party to ship the first 10,000 tons at this low price - which is a loss of profit for them since the price in Pakistan itself is over US$ 65 per ton FOB. Freight from Pakistan to Colombo is over US$ 35 per ton. It is learnt, with support from official quarters, they have been assured a higher price and a longer time for shipment.

Sir, we do not have to remind you if matters at this side are as bad as alleged, it is a serious impropriety where the Ministry Secretary should be personally held responsible. Newspaper notices announcing tenders for cement, rice etc are drafted poorly. E.g. a Tile press notice in the “Ceylon Daily News” dated 25/2/08 by the now Corporation is drawing laughs from the diplomatic community. Insisting on US$ 5,000 per supplier and perhaps per commodity is a clear message the whole thing is an absolute fraud. They deliberately allow flaws and do not insist on the vital Maintenance Bond and Bid Bond requirements - usually at 2% and 10% respectively - so that their own dubious parties get into the business. This weakness allows bogus officers to sabotage these necessary imports. Both matters at the Cement Corporation and the new Trade Ministry Corporation -should be enquired into and a proper transparent tender with valid documents prepared by able’ officials competent in English, should be called. The failure in the Cement Corporation tender and the delays and manipulation in the Trade Ministry’s tenders for Rice and Cement make it clear that high ministry officials are out to see how much they can make out of these imports rather than import these badly needed items to help the country.

We appeal to you, to bring back the old system of open/transparent tenders where as many suppliers as possible participate so that Sri Lanka gets a good deal. We recall during the late 1950s to about 1980 the CWE, the Food Commissioner’s Department, the Cement Corporation, the Fertilizer Corporation etc conducted their imports efficiently under the protection of proper documentation and thus avoided serious improprieties that are now the order of the day.
An ex-Trade Unionist


Is there a hoodoo? Response

In Nihal Ratnayaka’s letter in ‘The Nation of February 24, over a year ago, and also in a letter in the Daily Mirror by Subash Wickramasinghe too, there is a belief that Sri Lanka was under a curse, and as a result there are lot of troubles, in the country at present.

Parliament is the nerve centre of the nation, and it’s location in a swamp, mada vala (astrologically), surrounded by water, brings disaster to the nation. They say that there will be long drawn out strife, blood-shed, murder, mayhem, disunity, discord and discontentment among all section of the populace. There will also be constant clashes between the rulers and the ruled, poverty, indebtedness and in short, all the ills that Pandora’s box let loose. Of course, nobody says it openly for obvious reasons.

Recently, I was told by a friend that the late Nissanka Wijeratna has pointed out that the present Parliament stands on a land where hundreds of dead bodies of soldiers were buried, and that an exorcism ceremony should have been performed, before the construction of the building, to ward off the ill effects, and that it’s not too late, even now, to perform the ceremony.

All politicians get their horoscopes read, hold bodhi-poojas and make offerings at Kataragama, Munneswaram and other places of worship, to seek gods’ blessings not only to win elections, but to keep them in power and save them from all dangers. But none would pay heed to this type of astrological opinion, because, they are not directly affected. The more chaos there is, in the country better off, they are.

Incidentally to me that edifice looks more like a cattle shed,(no pun intended), than an impressed building, as it should have been. I have never been there, but I have been told that unlike the Independence Hall, it has none of the national architectural features. What a pity, if it is true?

It is up to those in power, and also to those who believe in astrology and occult sciences to verify the truth of this belief, and take immediate remedial measure in the larger interest,of the country. Our President is from an area where there are experts in the field.
S. Abeywickrama


                                                    An open letter to the President…                                                   

The sad plight of the ordinary man

Dear Mr. President,
I thought of writing to you as you seem to be blissfully unaware of how we, (the ordinary citizens) are suffering under your administration.

Someone should tell you that the cost of living has soared beyond the bearable stage. While you lavishly throw millions of our public money on maintaining your comic band of ministers, advise­rs, sycophants and other hangers-on and carry on an unending war, we are close to starvation.

Deprivation is the name of the game now. Butter or jam on a slice of bread for our children is now not possible. Milk in our tea is a th­ing of the past. Fish and beef are luxuries now, not daily fare as they used to be before you began your reign. The price of rice, flour, milk, vegetables, etc., are double or treble the prices before you commenced to ‘rule’ us.

The price of gas is terrible and ludicrous. The obviously pros­perous minister in charge is more interested in justifying the actions of the gas com­panies than acting to protect the suffering, heavily burdened consumer. Why do you condone the actions of such ministers?

Law and order are conspicuous by their absence. The Rule of Law has broken down. Violence, abductions, murders and all types of crime are on the upsurge. Yet no Police action is taken except where ordered by interested politicos. You seem to have an ‘Upside Down’ idea of how the law should be enforced.

Your near illiterate ‘Doctor’ would have got away scot-free after taking his underworld gang to a prominent public institution, and assaulting a high official., if it were not for the action of the members of the staff who chased him and his underlings away like whipped curs with their tails between their legs. Your reaction in this matter is beyond understanding. Instead of demanding his resignation or sacking the ‘unlearned Doctor’ you cloak him with your protection. The Police, catching the infection, or acting on instructions, seem bent on prose­cuting those who meted out justice to the law breaking ‘Doctor’ and his cohorts, instead of the other way around as the law sets out. So much so that members of the Rupavahini staff are being subject to harassment and are living in fear of bodily harm.

You have cowed down the Media into passive submission. Frequent assaults, threats, abductions, etc. seem to have put the fear of God into the media persons, even those who want to keep the public informed of what is going on.
The world is astounded and alarmed over these developments but you don’t seem to care a whit. Parliament and the Constitution are just inconveniences to be thrust aside or ignored.

So to whom then do we turn for succour? Ranil and the U.N.P. have become a joke, always promising action, in the future, but never delivering their promises. Sadly for the country, your rule of inverted benevolence has coincided with Ranil’s leadership, or lack of it, reducing the U.N.P. to impotence. The leaders of the J.V.P. issuing bombastic, bogus threats, are intent only on keeping you in power till they become entitled to pensions. They know only too well that an election would see their numbers cut down drastically.

The J.H.U., blood-thirsty as they are, are content with sufficient blood-letting in the North, caring very little about the suffering of the populace around them as they float around in their luxury vehicles.

The Chief Justice has taken on the role which the Leader of the Opp­osition should have been performing. His outspoken attacks on corruption and malpractices stand out like beacons in the darkness. He is playing a lone hand, which can, as recent events have shown, be dangerous, with so many armed groups moving around” unchecked in white vans.

We are, therefore, condemned to suffer more and more privations while your huge band of ministers, relatives and hangers-on go their merry way to prosperity and rotundity.

You have made the unending war your cover. We are supposed to tight­en our belts though we have already reached the limit in that direction.

We are willing to bear a reasonable burden so that the war can be successfully pursued. But here too, there is deceit. Your many “cons” and twisting of the truth, are concealing the true position. We only hear of the deaths of tens and scores of Tigers with only an occasional death of a serviceman or two.

The Prime Minister’s statement when the extension of the Emergency was debated is closer to the truth, and exposed the prevarication of those who issue these reports. He said that in 29 days in February 104 Police and other servicemen. and 80 civilians were killed. The result is perplexity and a willingness on the part of the populace, to believe all the rumours that float around, give no credence to the prevaricat­ions of these official spokespersons..
God save Sri Lanka!!


Deiyo - No Gods

Devas or Deiyo are referred to as Gods and worshipped as such, by Buddhists due to misunderstanding of Buddhism and Buddhist Literature.

Persians or Iranians who settled down in India and Sri Lanka came to be known as Devas. They are the Persian Aryans referred to in Buddhist Literature, and various inscriptions in Sri Lanka and India. They were normal human beings like Yaksha, Raksha and Naga clans. Devas who came to Sri Lanka eventually settled down in Devinuwara or Dewundara, as a community.

There are Devales all over the country dedicated to various Devas such as Saman Deiyo, Kataragama Deiyo and so on. They are in fact not Gods as such. For instance Sumana Saman was a leader in the central region of Sri Lanka, belonging to the Deva clan. The Buddha, on his third visit to Sri Lanka, on the invitation of Sumana Saman, placed His foot imprint on top of Samanthkuta (Samanalakanda). Sumana Saman was appointed the lay guardian of Sumanakuta. Sumana Saman’s services to the region and Buddhism was so immense that, he was reverred and respected figure. It is this Sumana Saman, who is now being considered as the Guardian deity of Samanalakanda and referred to as Saman Deiyo.

Similarly Kataragama Deiyo is a warrior who protected the Sinhalese, in the South, for which reason, he has been deified.
According to the Buddha Dhamma, there is no one superior to man. The Buddha’s teachings do not expect Buddhists to grovel before anyone, God or Deity to obtain favours or material benefits. There are no ‘Gods’ in Buddhism who could come to one’s aid through prayer or offerings of cash and kind. According to Buddhist Philosophy, our present and future are totally dependent on ourselves; what we have done, and what we do. We control our own destiny and we are not controlled, by a supernatural God. The failure or success of an individual depends on, his or her good or bad deeds and his or her own efforts.

Accordingly Devas are not Gods, who are capable of showering favours or material benefits to Buddhists.
Upali S. Jayasekera
Colombo 4


Use of CFL and incandescent bulbs

A major current topic of discussion is the impending increase in electricity charges. When electricity charges are increased, there are still ways and means that, consumers could resort to, to keep the bills at a minimum price. One course measure would be to increase the use of CFL bulbs, in place of incandescent bulbs.

Few years ago, the CEB launched a programme, though which electricity consumers were encouraged, to use CFL bulbs. If I remember correct, the CEB even helped consumers, to purchase CFL bulbs, for which payments could be made, on installments basis. Is it not possible for the CEB to, recommence a similar programme?

It is a well known fact that CFL bulbs use about 70-80% less power than incandescent bulbs. Besides, CFL bulbs last longer, sometimes about 2 years or more. However in Sri Lanka there is a snag in the availability of genuine products. Are those CFL bulbs marketed on the pavements, really genuine? These are generally priced less, but is the quality as good as, that of genuine ones? The authorities should see that, only good quality products are available to avoid the consumers being hoodwinked.

International NGOs which operate in Sri Lanka, could help electricity consumers, in this regard. They could reach out to the less affluent consumers, especially in rural areas, and help them to get into the habit of using CFL bulbs.

Do all state sector organisations use energy saving bulbs? Even though most government offices are not lit during the day time, it is advisable to instal CFL bulbs in these offices too, so that there will be less power consumption, whenever these are lit.
T. M. Jeevananda De Silva


Why pork eating is forbidden for Muslims?

Apropos the article in The Nation of 24.02.2008 by Sydney Ranatunge, I explicitly state that he has blundered when he wrote that “Muslims do not eat pork following the death of the prophet after a meal that contained pork”. I would like to enlighten him that the Quran containing 6666 verses was revealed to the holy prophet over a period of 23 years, more than fourteen centuries ago. Let me demolish the writer’s erroneous contention on pork eating with the following Quranic verse.
“He hath only forbidden to you dead meat and blood

And the flesh of swine”-Ch2 : V173.
“Forbidden to you (for food) are dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine and that on which hath been invoked, the name other than God….. Which had been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow or by headlong fall, or gored to death that which had been partly eaten by a wild animal……… Ch5 : V4.

Mr. Ranatunge should bear in mind that these verses were revealed to the prophet during his lifetime. Pork consumption was not imposed following the death of the prophet after a meal that contained pork, as erroneously contented by him. From the foregoing verse, it is evident that, Muslims are prohibited not only from eating pork, but also the flesh of dead animals such as cattle, goat, sheep, camel, poultry, whether the animal died of a natural cause, or, otherwise. Al-Quran states in the following verse that, Muslims are prohibited from eating the flesh of predatory animals such as lions, tigers, cheetas, bears etc.

“Lawful unto you (for food) are all four footed animals, with the exceptions named; But the animals of the chase are forbidden while “ Ch5 :V2, Pig carries harmful germs; Pork is a carrier of harmful germs and hence forbidden for consumption.”
An authoritative phys­ician of the ‘Ming Dynasty’ Lee Shah Chen, condemned pork consumption and asserted that pork has poison and ill-effects. Hsuch Hun Yu, a modern doctor, pinpoints in his book “The Problem of Carnivorousness” that, consu­mption of pork causes weakening of memory and shedding of hair. Modern scientists have now discovered that pork eating is one of the causes for baldness. Writing in the journal Washington Post, more than half a century ago on the ill-effects of pork eating, Dr. Glen Shephard had illustrated very lucidly that one in every six people in USA and Canada, has germs in his muscles, (Trinchinosis) by eating pork.

Science has discovered the ill effects of pork consumption recently, although the Quran has revealed this fact about fourteen hundred years ago, and prohibited Muslims from eating this flesh. Meanwhile, there is no historical evidence to state that the prophet ate pork and died, instead he died at the age of sixty three,’-a natural death.
A. F. Dawood



East polls signal end of free and fair elections - Ranil

I was amused to read the above statement by the Leader of Opposition, Ranil Wickremasinghe.
I like to find out when Sri Lanka had a free and fair election, after the 1977 General Election.

The rot began with the scandalous referendum of 1983, to extend the term of the, then Parliament by six years.
Viswa Warnapala has written a well documented book on the referendum.
It was the most vulgar and criminal exploitation of the ballot.

Polling agents in Attanagalle were pulled out from stations and assaulted. J.R. gave the green light to do anything to win it.
Incidents similar to Attanagalle were seen all over the island.

The 1988 Presidential election was again a violent election, with several S.L.F.P. organisers killed on the day before, and the day of the election. I was the S.L.F.P. organiser for Panadura.

Gunmen shot at my wife and I, on the 18th of December, 1988. Eight of my supporters were killed including the Secretary of the S.L.F.P. Youth League and, my driver. It was a U.N.P. government and no action was taken to arrest the culprits.
My wife and I escaped, while the assassins followed us and attempted to shoot us.

Was that a fair and free election? But, the general election during President D. B. Wijetunga’s period was free of intimidation and violence.

I am sure that a flawed election in the Eastern Province is better, than no election. People of the East, who were denied their human rights, for over 20 years, now have a chance of taking the first step to democracy.

Dr. Neville Fernando
Former Member of Parliament, Panadura












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