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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.

 

Academic Degrees, Professorships and National Honours

Sometime back I wrote an article, ‘A nation of Doctors and Professors’ which was published in a leading Sunday newspaper. I remember writing several letters on the subject of JP’s too. Several other concerned citizens have also been expressing their views often. Erudite editorials have appeared in newspapers. The national concern of the gross misuse and abuse of Doctorates and national honours is such that even the Mahanayakas have spoken.

With regard to the awarding of academic degrees and the use of academic titles it is surprising that the University Grants Commission has remained silent and inactive. The UGC is the authority in Sri Lanka to approve degree awarding institutes. Apart from the statutory powers it enjoys under the Higher Education Act. of 1978, it has a duty and moral obligation to foster and uphold academic traditions and the dignity and honour of the academic community. Academics too have a duty to safeguard the honour of their respected profession.

Only recognised degree awarding institutes, which of course are recognised Universities can confer doctorates. Basically there are two types of Doctorates, earned Doctorates and Honorary Doctorates. To earn a Doctorate one needs to have at least a first or second class first degree or a Master’s degree and several more years of study or research. An original contribution to knowledge in the form of a thesis is often a mandatory requirement. An Honorary Doctorate is conferred on a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the furtherance of knowledge or to the well being of society or the prestige of the nation.

In the late eighties I was Advisor to the UGC. Dr. Stanely Kalpage was the Chairman. The Higher Education Authority of Pakistan wrote to the UGC complaining that a doctor from Sri Lanka who had a string of impressive honorary titles in his letterhead including a Knighthood, was conferring Doctorates on persons for a financial consideration. The UGC could do nothing about this than to inform its Pakistan counterpart that the person concerned was not authorised to confer degrees, and to take appropriate action under the laws of Pakistan.

Unfortunately there are no laws even in Sri Lanka to prevent such conferment of Doctorates. In my view to enact an appropriate law may be difficult because there is nothing to prevent a person calling himself ‘Doctor’. The Oxford Dictionary defines the verb (to) doctor inter alia as ‘castrate or spay, patch up (machinery etc.), adulterate, falsify’! The consoling factor that emerges is that we in Sri Lanka can indeed look at some of our Honorary Doctors in a new light. They could very well be experts at castrating dogs, patching up, adulterating or falsifying!

The academic title Professor is also grossly abused today. In the academic tradition a professor is a Teacher of high rank especially the holder of a Chair or senior teaching appointment in a University. Such a person is not entitled to use the title ‘professor’ once he quits the job or retires, unless he has been conferred Professor Emeritus status. Such eminent academics continue to be addressed as ‘professor’. Perhaps only a handful of such persons, exist in Sri Lanka.

As regards academic degrees there are two other trends that are of concern and should receive the attention of the UGC. The first is the large scale advertising of degrees, diplomas etc by numerous teaching institutions claiming affiliation to all manner of Universities and educational institutions in the world. Eager parents pay exorbitant fees and register their children even without being aware of the existence of the term ‘Recognised University’. The demand for tertiary education is such that even ‘Sakviti’ type scams are possible.

The second is the reluctance on the part of degree holders to mention the University from which the degree was obtained. Often have I seen names of persons in advertisements, newspapers and other documents with degree such as MBBS (Sri Lanka), MBA (USA). The fact is that there are no such degrees.

Countries do not award degrees only Universities do. Doctors with MBBS should write MBBS (Col.), MBBS (Sri Jayawardenapura), MBBS (Ruhuna) etc. Similarly those with other degrees should mention the University after the letters denoting the degree. If the UGC, Universities and employers show interest in this regard, those with degrees from dubious or unrecognised Universities or other educational institutions can be found out.

As for national honours except for the highest honour the Deshabimanya, all other honours ranging from Justice of the Peace to Deshamanya have been devalued with unlimited numbers being ‘honoured’ including criminals and vagabonds. The truth is that no sane person attaches any value to these so called National honours today.

Edward Gunawardena
Battaramulla

****

A flashback

A similar situation to that of today in Sri Lanka occurred in June 2006, and at that moment I felt that India is very likely to intervene in Sri Lanka as such I posted copies of ‘the letter of Mr. Anandasangaree’ which appeared recently in the newspapers written by one to JVP Secretary Tylvin Silva on 20th March 2006, also sent to newspapers and to Nirupama Rao, High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka at that time to be sent to Indian PM by express post on the 25th of June 2006. I posted a copy of the same to ‘Hindu’ by airmail also.

The above article on ‘The letter to Anandasangaree’ emphasises that ‘when there is terrorism or an uprising in the South everybody wants to crash it. The Govt. takes stern action. Human Rights activists, NGOs TULF including Anandasangaree and International Community are all silent. Nobody will come to the rescue.
But when there is terrorism in the North and East, India, International Community WHO’s Human Rights activists are all active or some divine power will come to rescue.

Finally I end the letter saying quoting S. L. Gunasekera about the demand for an ISGA published sometime back. The aims of the LTTE are not restricted to establishing a separate state in the North Eastern Province, but extend to the control if not the --- of the rest of the country (page 91).

Thus the only way forward, if our country is to survive, is the destruction of the LTTE by military action’ (page 98).
But it is heartening to note that the Indian PM at a Tamil Nadu press interview said. “Sri Lanka’s problem is an internal one and India will help to maintain the unitary character and to solve the problem by discussions.’

S.A.P. Subasinghe
Alawwa

****

Those scarlet poppies

(1915 amid WW I)

Artificial poppies for November eleventh...
Still hold true for the fallen
In mercy and salutation
WARS must rest in PEACE
Even at the eleventh hour!
Call it honourable ceasefire...

Irene de Silva
Colombo 5

****

Offering flowers at temples

Where Buddhists are concerned offering flowers at temples is not only paying homage to the Lord Buddha but also a topic for meditation.
The devotees recite the following stanza while offering flowers -
Pujemi Buddhan Kusumennanena – I offer flowers in homage to the Lord Buddha
Punnena Metena Labhami Mokkham – With this merit may I attain “redemption” (Nibbana)
Puppham Milayati Yathaidhamme – Flowers fade away
Kayo thathayati Vinasa Bhawan – in like manner the body decays
The devoted Buddhist while offering flowers to the Great One is mindful of the noble qualities of His and the doctrine. He preached (Buddha Dhamma: not Buddhism)

A flower is synonymous with beauty, purity, innocence, etc making the surroundings pleasant spreading the perfume. But this status quo, since not everlasting, fades away yielding to impermanency. That makes the devotee conscious for a moment, of the impermanency of life to which he is greedily attached as if everlasting, through delusion. Of course it is not either frustration or defection. This realisation incites the devotees to endeavour to live a simple, humble, contented happy life without hindrance to others, i.e. a life as far as possible free of lust, hatred and delusion.

According to Buddha Dhamma meditation is the path to train ones mind for virtue, one pointedness of mind and wisdom a person with such a trained mind is similar to a beautiful innocent flower which spreads the perfume of loving kindness compassion, friendship and equanimity towards all beings.

So offering flowers at the temple is a simple practical mental exercise on impermanence of life to the Buddhists - a bud blooms to a beautiful flower to fade away in a short time whether plucked or not.
“Essence of life is impermanence”.

M. W. A. A. Mediwake
Gunnepana

****

Unsavoury public image of the Sri Lanka Police Force

Many of our problems facing the country today is mainly due to the politicians interfering in the day to day work of the Police Force, the custodians of law and order in the country. Today the politicians of any ruling party have taken for granted that the Police Force are their handyman and most of the crimes committed by the underworld thugs, hooligans, contract killers, abductions highway robbers, illegally felling of forest trees, investigations of bribery and corruptions etc. have the protection from the politicians who always instruct the OIC to release criminals as they are their supporters, like the case of Mervyn Silva and his henchmen; or else the poor OIC is transferred to a remote area or to the north war front, as punishment for doing his duty.

It is sad, but true the Police Force do not enjoy the goodwill of the public today. The public image of the public force was not all what it ought to be. The fear of battery by the Police was in every citizen’s mind. The Police have to win the public confidence by practising self-restraints before public co-operation could be gained.

Recruits to the Police Force have to have a basic understanding of the problems of the public and the country with which they would be confronted in the course of their duties. Police personnel should be given correct training on how to obtain the co-operation of the people in the duties which they would be called upon to perform.

The people of the country expects all ranks of the police to remember, according to each of the letters forming the world ‘Police’ connotes three of the most important qualities necessary for an exemplary ‘cop’. They are -
P – For politeness, probity, pragmatism
O – For obedience, originality, orderliness
L – For loyalty, law-abiding liveliness
I – For intelligence, integrity, impartiality
C - For courage, courtesy and character
E – For efficiency, equity and equanimity are surely spells a perfect policemen
As we pay for the maintenance of the Police Force, then there would a new vision for all law abiding citizens to uphold the democratic system in our country.

The need of the hour is to maintain law and order in the country, and with the appointment of the Independent Police Commission sometime back, policemen should not have had any fear to perform his/her duty according to the rules and regulations laid down in the Police Ordinance, and to follow to the dictates of the politicians, but it is very unfortunate and sad that the Police Commission is not functioning as intended early.

It is a well known fact that the rank and file of the Police Force go behind politicians to stooge for assistance for promotions, transfers etc. This type of attitude should be stopped forthwith and allow the Police to act independently without fear or favour, and the Police should resist to act outside the law, as the paramount duty of the Police is to maintain the rule of law in the country.
When anyone could walk anywhere of the country day or night without any fear they can then expect justice and protection from the Police.
Today we have to depend on the independent judiciary for fair play and justice in the democratic system of government.

F. A. Rodrigo Sathiananthen
Melbourne, Australia.

****

Unauthorised conversion of residential premises

The UDA and CMC are responsible for the proper planning of the Colombo City and suburbs. Unfortunately, both institutions have failed miserably to have a planned city.

The UDA some time ago divided Colombo into different zones i.e. Industrial Zones, Commercial Zones, Mixed Zones and a Special Primary Residential Zone. The details of this plan are reflected in the Colombo City Development Plan.
The UDA published a regulation that residential premises in Colombo 7 and other areas cannot be converted into commercial or office premises. The purpose of this regulation was to keep residential areas free of noise and air pollution.

It should be noted that diesel vans and vehicles are parked at these converted premises and the residents are compelled to breathe diesel fumes throughout the day. Some drivers do not switch off their engines as they want air-conditioned comfort, completely ignoring the rights of residents to unpolluted air.
It should also be observed that government institutions lose revenue when residential premises are converted to office premises i.e.

(i) House owners pay rates on the basis of residential premises which are much less than for commercial premises.
(ii) Charges for electricity, water and telephone are also paid on the basis that they are residential premises. In Sri Lanka, the honest pay and the dishonest could get away without paying their proper share of taxes and rates. All this is possible because the UDA and CMC have failed to implement the law.

The Colombo 7 residents get a raw deal as they pay higher rates to live in a supposedly exclusive area. Even ambassadors of foreign countries reside in Colombo 7 alongside offices, restaurants, workshops, shops, hospitals, cottage hotels, coffee shops, massage parlours, flower shops and Chinese Acupuncture clinics.In other countries, special residential areas are strictly residential and no commercial purposes are permitted in those areas and this law is strictly implemented.

G.A. Fernando
Colombo 7

****

Another letdown for pensioners?

Pensioners who had, high hopes that under the Mahinda Chintanaya, the pension anomalies will be rectified and their woes will be over, might be in for a rude shock.
Though the removal of the pension anomalies based on the salary revision operative as on 1st January 2006, has been accepted in principle by the Government, the indications are that the payment will be staggered and paid in four installments, according to recommendations forwarded by the Director General of Pensions.
The recommendations are that the payments be effected in 4 years starting on 1st January 2009. Accordingly, the final 25% of the increase will be paid as from 1st January 2012, by which time at least 30 to 40 % of the pensioners will not be there to receive their due pensions, a large saving to the Government at the expense of the poor pensioners.
Then again the public servants will have further salary revisions once or twice between 2009 and 2012, and the pensioners will be discriminated against once again.
Other recommendations are that the increases arising from the revision will not apply to widows and orphans and those who have migrated, which is a great injustice.
The pensioners should lobby the Government to ensure that, if not the full payment, at least half should be paid as from 1st January 2009 and the balance half as from 1st January 2010. On the other hand, the same increases should be paid to all categorised as pensioners in the Pension Minute which include widows and orphans and those who have migrated and pensions are being paid.

Upali S. Jayasekera

                                                                                        Appreciations                                                                                  

14th death anniversary of late Gamini Dissanayake

Charismatic and caring leader

October 23 2008 marks the 14th death anniversary of the charismatic and caring leader, late Gamini Dissanayake who was assassinated along with many UNP stalwarts by a LTTE suicide bomber just before the conclusion of a Presidential election campaign meeting at Thotalanga. His tragic death shattered all hopes and thwarted peoples dream of their leader becoming the President, with the elections was just over two weeks away.

He was educated at Trinity College Kandy. Although his parents’ ambition was to make him an accountant, he pursued a career in law and practised as a lawyer. After drawing inspiration from famous leaders like D.S.Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and J.R.Jayewardena he gave up his lucrative practice as a lawyer and entered politics in the year 1970, becoming an M.P. Almost immediately after he was unseated by an election petition he was re-elected to the Nuwara-Eliya/Maskeliya seat in a by-election held in the year 1972. As a young and energetic politician as the people’s representative in the Nuwara-Eliya district he extended a yeoman service to all constituents with devotion, commitment and sheer dedication using his typical charismatic approach.
He was a unique and extraordinary politician who listened to the masses, solved their problems. Anyone who was keen in meeting him had very easy access irrespective of any individual’s political affiliations.

He was an excellent orator who spoke sense keeping the vivid audiences spellbound. The contents of his speeches spelt out his promises inspiring the desperate with hope for their lives. The firm foundation built and the confidence gained by the people of the electorate in particular helped in his stride to nurture and mature himself to become an ideal politician. When the United National Party came into power in the year 1977, he was entrusted to accept many Ministerial Portfolios, monumental goals and tasks during the tenure of the government. The Ministerial Portfolios entrusted to him were Irrigation, Power, Constructions, Lands, Land Development, Mahaveli, Plantation Industries and Highways. Late Gamimi Dissanayake once confessed that the word “development” means developing the infrastructure and the end result of “development” is upliftment of the living standards of the masses in physical, mental, moral, social and cultural advancement.

The most gigantic task confronted by him was, of course, the historical accelerated Mahaweli Project. The toughest challenge in its implementation was the evacuation of approximately 3,000 families from over 50 villages who lived in the valley of the Kotmale reservoir. This also included about 15 places of religious worship. The late leader too sacrificed his ancestral lands. The Kotmale reservoir was one among other reservoirs, Victoria,Randenigala, Rantembe, Ulhitiya, Rahkinda and Maduruoya.to be built and commissioned under the accelerated Mahaweli development programme.This multipurpose diversion scheme also included the amalgamation of several canals and waterways This massive Mahaweli scheme with foreign collaboration was manoeuvred by efficient personnel deployed both locally and internationally using innovative modern technology under the close scrutiny of the great leader.

The gigantic exercise was initially, targeted to be completed in 30 years. However due to the enormous skill, the charismatic approach and tireless leadership it happened to be completed in an unbelievable short period of just seven years. The Kotmale reservoir was commissioned on 24 August 1985. fulfilling a dream of late Gamini Dissanyake.Those who sacrificed lands have now settled and are living freely and independently having fulfilled their basic needs like jobs, shelter and food, while making maximum use of the golden waters of the reservoir for their agricultural needs. The speech he delivered on that day was emotional and fascinating. While paying great tribute to those who sacrificed lands engulfed in the reservoir, he emphasised that it was made for national interest with a view to a definite development revolution. He said “ I believe the agony and the pain of mind the people of Kotmale and my relatives suffered as a result of loss of ancestral lands will be compensated when they witness the great benefits that this project will bring to the next generation”.

As a gesture of national gratitude on April 11 2003 the “Kotmale Reservoir”was appropriately renamed as the “Gamini Dissanayke Reservoir” by unveiling his statue at a glittering ceremony presided by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. This event became more significant as it took place at a time when the farmers were blessed with a bumper paddy harvest deprived them for a long period of time.

The efforts of late Gamini Dissanayake while holding several Ministerial Portfolios other than the Mahaweli project have helped immensely to uplift to a large extent the basic living standards especially of the average citizen and made possible to make a tremendous impact on the economic revival of the country, which needs no exaggeration.

Besides actively engaged in our development process he found the time to be actively involved in the game of cricket having held office as the President of the Board of Control of Cricket in Sri Lanka, BCCSL (now known as Sri Lanka Cricket) from June1981 to June 1989 and thereafter for a brief period of four months immediately prior to his tragic death in 1994 during which period he made many significant contributions.

It is pertinent to mention that The Gamini Dissanayake Foundation in keeping with the vision of the late leader has already set up The Gamini Dissanayake Institute of Technology and Vocational Studies in Kandy to provide Vocational training skills for the less privileged children using modern technology.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

Sunil Thenabadu
Mt.Lavinia

****

 Ven. Ratwatte Siddhartha                           

His interest was not self-glorification

Ven. Ratwatte Siddhartha, who was the founder and the Chief Achariya Teacher of the well-known Dhamma Khuta Vipassana Meditation Centre on the hilltop of Mahakanda in Kandy, passed away on the September 9 2008 at the age of 85. He was virtually the local representative of the world-renowned guru Goenka whose technique of Vipassana Meditation is followed all over the world.

Before ordination he was Brendly Ratwatte, who hailed from an aristocratic family in the hill capital of Kandy. Although he was a lawyer who could have easily built up a lucrative practice, his interest was not self-glorification but understanding the vanity of glory. He married Miss Damayanthi Ellepola of a family of parallel standing in Matale.

They gifted to the society, a very valuable daughter who is a doctor and a valuable son who is a lawyer. Then onwards, this great lover of humanity did not belong only to his family and relations but he was a guide and a teacher to all those that sought emancipation on Buddhist principles of Vipassana Meditation, as practised on the techniques introduced by his guru Goenka.

Incidentally his wife, who was a university lecturer, too excelled in the art of meditation followed by her husband, and after his becoming a monk, she took over the role of the Chief Teacher at this meditation centre. She conducts courses of training by herself and with the help of the other teachers trained on the technique of meditation of Sri Goenka.

The Buddha always emphasised the value of doing good for oneself and for others (attahita, parahita). Late Mr. Ratwatte as a layman and then as a Buddhist monk was an embodiment of this great precept. His mission is reminiscent of the parable of the ship (nava) in the Suttanipata:

As one who boards a sturdy boat,
With oars and rudder well equipped,
May many others then help cross,
Sure, skilful knower of the means.

In his search for light he travelled abroad, followed instructions under the eminent Buddhist monk Webu Sayadow of Myanmar. He also had a spell of meditation in the Himalayas. It was on one of these journeys that he encountered his final guru S. N. Goenka, whose clarity of teaching and the efficacy of the technique of meditation attracted Mr. Ratwatte more than those of any other in the field. He studied his technique, practiced it, tested it with his own intuitive wisdom and accepted it as a very pragmatic approach. From then onwards he became the local representative of this International Guru Goenka.

He founded the “Dhamma Kuta”, the well-known Buddhist meditation centre with his own money and with those lavishly contributed by other followers of this technique of meditation and attracted people of various walks of life, Buddhist monks, judges, physicians, scholars and also those less privileged people, for courses of training on Vipassana. The followers of the practice of meditation were not limited to Buddhists but included people of other races and religions as well.

Eventually he became a Buddhist monk, receiving his pabbajja (novice ordination) and as well as upasampada (higher ordination) under the Ven. Ramhukwelle Vipassi Maha Thera, the High Priest of the Malwatte Chapter of Shyamopali Maha Nikaya in the year 1999. Thereafter he continued his meditative practice in a kuti constructed and donated by his children, in a plot of land in the vicinity of Dhamma kuta, until his passing away.

What was so impressive about Rev. Siddhartha, however, was not what he contributed to the field of meditation but what he was. He was truly selfless, because he totally dedicated himself to the mission he had undertaken. He left behind a world of good things for others to emulate.
May Ven. Siddhartha attain his goal of Nibbana!

Rupa Ratnayake,
A devout pupil.

****

 

 

 

 

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