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Letters


Readers please note it is essential that all Letters to the Editor carry the full name and address of the writer, even if it has to appear under a pseudonym. This applies to all email letters as well.

 

 

The need to remind the US of its sordid record

Sri Lanka is perhaps one of the few countries in the world where all manner of human rights activists are allowed access to prisoners, including those detained for suspected terrorist activities.

Almost all the Western NGOs and the UN, which are heavily biased towards their main funding country the United States, backed by a few local NGOs – also receiving lavish grants from western donors – appear to have ganged up to launch a well orchestrated campaign to tarnish Sri Lanka as a violator of human rights.

The Western press appears to be ignorant of the facilities, particularly the access that the prisoners have to their family members and their lawyers. They have recourse to the law and there are numerous instances when law-enforcement officers have been convicted and punished for torture etc.

It also needs to be noted that Sri Lanka is one of the few democracies where ‘fundamental rights’ is justifiable; and unlawful detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment are distinct violations of the fundamental rights. Many are the instances when the state had been ordered to pay compensation to such victims by our judiciary.

But why is it that the Western media, vociferous organisations and human rights observers, including the American Ambassador here, display ignorance of, and observe a deafening silence on, the repulsive and gruesome deeds committed by US agencies with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the American President himself?

The reasons are clear. America, backed by its white Western allies, is desperately striving to retain its place as the world’s only superior. It is alarmed at the dramatic resurgence of Asia and the West Asian oil rich Iran and Iraq. To divert the attention of the world from its own dismal human rights record, the US is all out to find fault with others. The guilt of the genocide of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Mai Lai massacre and the oppression of the blacks in their own country remain indelible. The blacks continue to remain black! Even Barak Obama has become vulnerable.

Peter Singer in his best seller on George W. Bush, The President of Good and Evil (Granta Books, London 2004) has in four pages given the reader a vivid insight into the methods of gruesome torture resorted to by state agents of the US in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

When Singer wrote this book, perhaps ‘water boarding,’ a method where the victim is put through the trauma of drowning had not been discovered by the CIA; and they keep on experimenting to devise new methods of torture.
The excerpt quoted below from Singer’s book illustrates the cruel, calculated and prolonged nature of the torture methods resorted to by the US Government:

“Though imprisoning people for months or years, when they have not been charged with any offence is a clear violation of human rights, the treatment of captured alleged AI Qaeda members held for interrogation by the CIA in Afghanistan and in Diego Garcia is even more disturbing. Neither military lawyers, nor the Red Cross have access to these prisoners.”

Referring to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Singer has written, “For the first few months, the prisoners - many of whom were, after being held for more than a year, acknowledged to be innocent and released – were kept in small wire mesh cells roughly six by eight feet in size. The cells had a wooden roof, but the sides were open to the hot afternoon sun, as well as to wind and rain. In that tiny space, the prisoners slept on the ground, with just two blankets and a prayer mat. They also went to the toilet in their cells. They were able to leave the cells only once a week for a one-minute shower.

But for an occasional isolated incident resulting from the behaviour of an undisciplined soldier or Policeman with a depraved mind, it is unimaginable that sustained, cruel and degrading torture of the ‘American type’ as described above could have taken place or would take place in Sri Lanka. Human rights activists, UN observers, NGO’s and diplomats who make assessments of the human rights record of Sri Lanka should be people who are unbiased with a thorough exposure to human rights violations the world over, particularly the western regimes from which they invariably come. Or else their judgement could be seriously flawed and most damaging to the country or countries concerned. If only the US Ambassadors, prior to being accredited to Sri Lanka, are candidly briefed by the US Foreign Relations Committee on the state of the detention camps in Guantanamo Bay and Diego Garcia they are bound to mistake prisons and other detention centres in Sri Lanka for recreation centres!

What I cannot understand is that when the country is being labelled as a barbaric nation that violates human rights, why the government is taking a defensive stand. Our genial and erudite Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe must take a more aggressive stand. He should challenge the accusers to cite specific instances of rights violations.

On this specific issue, the might of the US and the aid agencies should not deter his thinking. Someone needs to have the courage to remind the US of its infamous past and its heartless role in the ongoing killings of innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia; and tell that it should look inwards to find the places where torture is endemic and conducted with impunity!
Edward Gunawardena

****

Why standards in Postal Department have declined

Dissatisfaction over the declining postal standards has been expressed in the print media. The new Minister of Posts too expressed concern, and referred to inept bureaucracy. He also talked of running the Post on business lines.
The main reasons for the present situation in the Post could be attributed to:

1. Politicisation
i) Interference in recruitment, promotion and service extension.
ii) Public service working hours / overtime culture
iii) Work norms promoting low productivity
iv) No proper utilisation of staff / excessive staff/less staff
v) Arbitrary and corrupt decisions
vi)Low education qualifications for recruitment to officer grades/ examination competitiveness downgraded
vii) Indiscipline
viii) Favouritism and discrimination in the enforcement of discipline
ix) Absence of accountability
x) Wrong placing of staff - square pegs in round holes
xi) Interference in tender processes
2. Low Income
Existence of an excessive network of offices without commercial justifiability
ii) Tariff cover for only salaries and overtime payments to a large extent
iii) Inadequate revenue streams
iv) Financial losses - high operational costs
v) Dependence on government subsidy
vi) Non-collection of terminal dues properly
vii) Poor maintenance, under – capitalisation, offices poorly furbished

3. Lack of Service Culture
i) No clear targets and planning - changes not supported
ii) Low customer voice
iii) Absence of grade to grade training

The new Minister of Posts needs to make a start from his own office - the Ministry.
The administrative head of the Ministry - the Secretary - should have been sent home long ago. He is a retiree on service extension. A Supreme Court decision (Case NO. SC/FR/No.129/2002) determining that awarding of a tender was arbitrary, unreasonable and unlawful, awarded Rs. 1,500,000.00 as compensation to the petitioner to be paid by the State. The wrong awarding of the tender took place when the present Ministry Secretary was the then Postmaster General. The compensation was paid from postal department funds which was not proper. But no action was taken to find out those responsible for the unlawful award of the tender by the Ministry Tender Board, of which the Postmaster General who recommended the award of the tender to the wrong tenderer, was a member, with a view to punish the guilty, though the necessity was brought to the notice of the authorities concerned. The same officer, as the Ministry Secretary, has sent EMS parcel No. EE 001613194 LK on 5th April 2007, on “State Service” to a relative of his in India, without paying the charges due, and without declaring the contents, bypassing the customs, which is an illegal act, (a photo-copy of the declaration form of the EMS Parcel in question is enclosed). However, he is still deciding on disciplinary cases against others. Worse still is that he has taken action to have the case against him suppressed, and promote the officer who helped him in this illegal act, on the basis of favouritism, when in fact he should be under interdiction by now.

Then again the case of a questionable competitive examination for promotion to the grade of Asst. Superintendent, has come to light. PMG’S Circular No. 18/204 dated 17th November 2004 was issued calling for applications from departmental officers to sit the examination for promotion to the Asst. Superintendent grade. The circular issued under the signature of the Secretary, Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Upcountry Development had the closing date of applications as 10th December 2004. However the examination failed to be held in 2005 or 2006. But Circular No. 11/20/890/204 (06) dated 26th July 2006 was issued under the signature of the Deputy Postmaster General (Administration) extending the closing date to 2nd August 2006, nearly two years after the original closing date. It is rumoured that the signature appearing therein is not that of the DPMG (Administration). Several questions therefore arise over the examination:

Why was the exam not held in 2005 or 2006? Was it fair by the applicants to delay the holding of the exam?
Was it in order for the DPMG to extend the closing date fixed by the Ministry Secretary? The proper authority to extend the date of closing was the Ministry Secretary. Accordingly the DPMG’s circular had no validity. The applications received too became null and void.

Was the exam not held and the closing date for applications extended to accommodate certain favourites of the authorities?
Was that done to legalise the applications of those who were not qualified to apply under the Secretary’s Circular, but who had applied and had been accommodated?

Was it in order to have given training to 14 officers who passed the questionable exam, without being interviewed and the PSC approving the appointments? Now that the training had been stopped should not the expenses involved be recovered from the officer who approved such training?

Was that done to by -pass the disciplinary cases pending against some of them? It is yet to be seen whether it is political patronage that the Posts Ministry Secretary, on service extension even against the Public Administration instructions, and the suddenly appointed Actg. Postmaster General (A SLAS trade unionist), are expecting, that has emboldened them to appoint and train certain corrupt and indisciplined officers with disciplinary cases pending against them, even against the orders of the Public Service Commission .Whether the foolish arrogance of the two public servants or the legal orders of the Public Service Commission, the Commission appointed under the Constitution, will prevail, is interesting to see.

The Minister should also consider the necessity to have a head of department who has experience in the department as against a complete outsider.

What is happening in the post reminds me of the Sinhala saying, “Wetath Niyarath Goyam Ka Nam, Kaata Kiyamida a Ammaruwa” which means “If the fence and the bund (of the paddy field) eats up the paddy, to whom can the complaint be directed. How appropriate can that be?
Upali S. Jayasekera
Colombo 4

****

 Double sessions can increase number of students resolve admission problem

Finding schools for the increasing number of school going age children in this country has become a big problem. It is clear that the way to resolve this problem is by establishing more schools.
It is also time to use existing schools to have double sessions. If this works we should be able to double the present number of students in each school.
At the moment large numbers of students travel even 30-40 km up and down. If these students can get up early, schools can start early and end early to take in the second batch.
Hope the government takes this suggestion seriously.

Kenneth R. Peiris

****

                                                                                    Appreciations                                                                                      

A Genteel Parliamentarian

Anura Dias Bandaranaike

Many tributes have appeared in the Press, since the sad and sudden demise of Anura. May I be permitted, to add my own small mite, my two cents worth, rather belatedly to a gentleman Parliamentarian par excellence, with whom, I had the privilege of associating over the last 30 years, ever since he made his debut, in the then National State Assembly, as a young callow youth of 32 years, representing the Nuwara Eliya electorate as the SLFP second member of that multi member constituency. Since that time my friendship with him has grown steadfastly, over the last 30 years, until his sad demise.

Anura had his early education at Royal College and amongst his distinguished classmates were Ranil Wickremasinghe, Dinesh Gunawardena and I think, the late Neelan Tiruchelvam. He had a deep seated affection for his Alma Mater, and used to grace many of the annual Prize Givings and other College events. Since I was and old boy too, he often asked me about the College, its present activities and the welfare of its Principal and students. In fact in recognition of this, the present Principal insisted that the College is well represented, both when the body was lying in State at the Parliament premises, as well as at Horagolla to pay our final tribute, to a distinguished Alumni, so the Principal heading the body backed by prefects, students and old boys paid our respects, lining up on either side of the red carpet, in Parliament premises. Even though, the protocol did not permit us to drape his coffin that day, with the Blue and Gold Flag of the College, we were permitted to do so, at Horagolla.
After Royal, he proceeded to UK, and read for a degree successfully at the University of London.

During his tenure as Parliamentarian for over 30 years, he distinguished himself as a Leader of the Opposition, for five years from 1983-1988, as Minister of Higher Education, as Speaker of Parliament from 2000 to 2002 changing his constituency, from Nuwara Eliya to Gampaha, and even as a National List Member.

Few random incidents and anecdotes come to my mind, as I trace his career, which I would like to share. I would say that, his eloquence as a Speaker in the thrust and parry of debate, was almost unparalled. He no doubt, inherited this inborn talent from his late revered father, who shone in all the debates, he participated without parallel. His silver tongue oratory came to him, without the slightest hindrance.

What I recall with great nostalgia, is the contribution he made in the House, when we had invited the Margret Thathcher, then PM of Great Britain to formally address the House, when she visited Sri Lanka to inaugurate the Victoria Dam, under the Mahaweli Scheme. As Prime Minister Premadasa was abroad at that time, the task of giving the Vote of Thanks was handed over to Major Montague Jayawickrema, then leader of the House. We afforded the opportunity of seconding the vote of thanks to Anura. On that occasion, he spoke with sheer brilliance and eloquence.I still recall how the entire Government benches loudly applauded his speech, and even took the unprecedented step of crossing the well of the House to congratulate Anura, shaking both his hands, an incident which I have never witnessed in my 30 years of service. I can recall Madam Thatcher personally congratulating Anura at tea, which was served on the well manicured lawns on the second floor in Parliament.

In his eloquent speech, he recalled his own student days at the University of London, reading History and how he had even demonstrated against the education policies of Mrs. Thatcher, and how he had avidly followed her long march, from Grantham to Whitehall, and her ascent from professional life, to political life through a pioneering trail, as the first woman leader of the Conservative Party, and the first woman leader of the opposition, preparing her to be Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, yet gently reminding her that, we in Sri Lanka, produced the first woman Prime Minister in the world; his own mother and were two decades ahead. Naturally, this chord endeared himself to her on that occasion.

The other significant stand out occasion was, when he delivered a historic ruling in the House, in June 2001. The occasion was when the Supreme Court issued a Stay Order restraining the Speaker from appointing a Select Committee, to inquire into the conduct of the Chief Justice, consequent to a Motion of Impeachment, against him being forwarded, to the Speaker. Few months before his appointment as Speaker, unanimously with both sides of the House agreeing, he asked me to come and assist him, in his Parliamentary duties. Initially, I refused, since I was reluctant to return to the House. I had left earlier, having retired as Secretary General, after over 30 years of service. He insisted and phoned me three times at my home, and then out of respect and regard for him, I consented. When this motion was handed over to him, I had gone abroad (with his permission) with my family, for a short holiday. The High Commissioner in Singapore immediately contacted me, and conveyed Anura’s message, asking me to return home immediately in view of this new problem. Having returned forthwith, over the next few days Anura and I sat together, both in Parliament, and in his gracious book lined library, in his Bawa designed Rosmead Place apartment, discussing the pros and cons of this Motion, the alleged interference by the Judiciary with Parliament, and its impact on Parliament. He wanted me also to consult outside expert legal opinion, which we did so, so we could draft a Ruling.

Anura was so familiar, with the intricacies of Erskine Mays treatise on Parliamentary procedure, and the Indian treatise, by Shaul and Shakder, that it made our task so much easier. We toiled together over it, for hours and hours researching every known similar Parliamentary problem, from Sri Lanka to the UK, to India. Finally on June 20, 2001, he announced his historic ruling; I wish to quote here, what he personally put down in the last paragraph:

“In conclusion might I be permitted, on a personal note to say that, I am indeed proud to belong to a family, that has had the unparalled and unique privilege of, continuously serving the legislature of this Nation, since 1932 for nearly 70 years. Therefore I deem it a singular honour that, fate has bestowed on me as Speaker of this august Assembly by affording me the historic opportunity, of reaffirming the principles underlying the supremacy of Parliament. Since I commenced my Parliamentary career in 1977, I have often quoted in this House, the words of the Bard from Stratford on Avon, William Shakespeare in his monumental play Hamlet, he spoke thus:

This above all to thine own self, be true. And it must follow as the night, the day Thou canst not be then, be false to any man’
Honourable Members of Parliament, throughout my political and parliamentary career, I have had to face periods of difficulty, great turmoil and greater perplexity, which required me to make important decisions and painful choices. I have done so unhesitatingly, by doing the correct thing, and have acted according to the dictates, of my conscience.

I thank everyone, my Honorable friends from both sides of the House, for their attention and patience”.
Needless to add, within the next few months, Anura received congratulatory messages, for this land mark ruling from the House of Commons in London, the Lok Sabha and other Commonwealth countries.

I immensely enjoyed his company, and the conversation I had with him ranging from books, poetry and literature to the film world, and film stars of yesteryear, and his deep knowledge. His library walls were lined with film posters, depicting Sir Lawrence Oliver (his favourite actor) Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe. Few months before his demise, he invited me to a ‘one to one’ lunch at Visumpya, and over a delicious rice and curry, we talked of personal politics, falling standards in public life, men and matters.

I end quoting his favourite author Shakespeare, and his favourite play Hamlet: ‘Good night sweet Prince”
May the angels of Mercy sing thee to thy rest”

Nihal Seneviratne

****

Sam Molligoda: Everyone’s friend
On his 32nd death anniversary


Born February 16, 1936
Died March 31, 1976

In sunshine and every flower – we see you
Every song reminds us of you
Life was bright and happy when you were with us.
So many thousand times we wish
You still are….
Like the flash of lightning,
You were taken in a second
On that sad dark rainy April eve
You went to eternal rest as you lived - everyone’s friend
So many years have passed by…
But your memory still lives with us,
In our hearts, minds and thoughts -
With your smile un-faded
The voice – so sure
The love so gentle and warm
Never forgotten
We love you more and miss you more than ever…

Your wife Brigette, children Sharmani, Niromi, Shalini, Shandewa, Dammitha and Shammi
In-laws Asoka Attygalle, Malcolm Perera, Kingsley Jayaratne, Buddhika Jayatilleke, Anne and Dilanthi
Grandchildren Amandha, Eranda, Ruwandha, Rajintha, Mewantha, Malindi, Shavindi, Eshandha, Devanda, Deshada, Heman.

****

Plight of ‘Maw Sevana’ inmates

Dear Sir,
We are a Home for Destitute Boys at No. 12, Centre Road, Mattakkuliya. We cater to the needs of destitute boys, now in our care, for the past 30 years. All their needs, their accommodation, their schooling, healthcare, and every other need is provided by ‘Maw Sevena’, without any charge. The Institute has been running on the contributions from donors in Sri Lanka, and from abroad. In view of today’s soaring cost of living, additional difficulties are now cast on the management, to cater to the needs of the Destitute Boys, in its charge, in our mission, to provide them with, better living conditions in the future, preparing them to find jobs, to help them earn their own living, through the medium of suitable vocational training, etc.

At present, we are having additional problems, with the cost of electricity from the CEB increasing, up to three times or 300%, to what we have been paying in the past. Up to the end of February 2008, we have been paying around Rs.7000/- to Rs. 8000/-, but the current bill dates from 1/3/08 to 1/4/08, has soared up to Rs. 22,019/-. For a Home like ours, this is something, we cannot afford. We may have to keep the boys in complete darkness in the night, and even deny them, their opportunity, to study at night.

It is unfortunate that, the government should levy this additional charge, for electricity, particularly for a Home like ours, and it is time the government realised that, these soaring rates be brought down immediately, if homes like ours, are to exist.
Secretary, Board of Management

****

 

 

 

 

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