Monday, 8 March 2004  
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Restoring women's dignity

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga neatly summed up the great significance of being a woman when, on this occasion of International Women's Day, she quoted Kenyan Bishop Ndimbe's memorable words: "Train a man, you train an individual, train a woman you build a nation." This is the same as saying that the "hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" and it is of the utmost relevance that the world pauses awhile to reflect deeply on the profound importance of these sentiments.

It would be found that these noble thoughts on the role of the woman, apply particularly to countries such as ours which are having women as Heads of State or Government. Today, President Kumaratunga could be said to be having a tryst with destiny. On her is cast the unique responsibility of taking Sri Lanka to a better tomorrow, where ethnic peace, in particular, would reign. May she be endowed with the knowledge and wisdom to do this, is our prayer.

On closer reflection, however, it could be found that President Kumaratunga and the rest of womankind enjoy a shared responsibility. Inasmuch as the President has the responsibility of steering Sri Lanka into a better future, each familied woman has the blessed responsibility of guiding her family to goodness and happiness. Unfortunately, these latter aims are tending to get obscured by economic compulsions in particular, in countries such as ours.

For instance, the bulk of our foreign exchange is earned by women, who leave family and home behind, to chase the mirage of material success in the hot desert sands of the Middle East. While this economic role of the contemporary Lankan woman should be appreciated, the harm done to family and home cannot be ignored. In fact, we are now counting the cost of this economic burden some women in our land are being compelled to shoulder.

It should be the endeavour of the State to ensure that the lot of the Lankan woman improves to such a degree that it wouldn't be necessary for them to work their hearts out abroad, for the upkeep of family and self. This is a great challenge facing the State and the people. Could the Lankan mother be brought back home to stay from the sweathouses of more prosperous climes?

The PA government under President Kumaratunga did well to launch a Presidential Task Force on Women in 1996 and to subsequently set up the Ministry of Women's Affairs. We now understand that a legal framework is being licked into shape to enhance women's rights.

While all this is greatly appreciated it should be the endeavour of the State to ensure that family values are back in contention. The woman needs to be the heart of the home once again while we also need to forge ahead with moves to end discriminatory treatment of women. Since the "hand that rocks the cradle rules the world", it must be ensured that the hands of women are really at attendance when the cradles are installed.

The task of nurturing a human being into maturity and independence is an inherently dignifying role and we need to ensure that the Lankan woman is present to carry it out. It is our hope that she will be a living, breathing presence in the family once again - as of old - to shower love and affection on growing minds.

Eliminating corruption

The word 'corruption' is being heard very often these days as elections loom ahead. It is by no means a problem unique to Sri Lanka. Cases of bribery and corruption from around the world are frequently reported in the media. But the levels of corruption in various countries vary widely.

The latest survey on corruption on Asia, conducted by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy ranks Singapore as the least corrupt nation and Indonesia, the worst. The survey acknowledges that most countries have shown improvements in dealing with the problem. The respondents were expatriates based in the countries included in the poll.

Although Sri Lanka was apparently not included in this survey, it was placed 66th in a global 'corruption index' compiled last year by Transparency International (TI). Finland topped the TI list and Singapore top scored for Asia in that survey as well, at fifth place.

Singapore's success in virtually eliminating corruption seems to be directly linked to its development and foreign investment drives. Foreign investors do not want to give away part of their hard-earned funds to corrupt politicians and officials to get their projects approved.

They prefer a straightforward, transparent approach facilitated by helpful officials who do not demand unofficial monetary incentives. Singapore, having such a structure in place, marches ahead while most other Asian countries drive investors from pillar to post.

Large-scale tenders, regularly advertised in Asia, are another potential source for bribery and corruption. Maintaining transparency and accountability at all stages of the tender procedure is therefore vital. The public must be kept fully informed.

Politicians, government officials and private sector personnel against whom corruption charges have been levelled must be subjected to appropriate legal procedures. It is the people who suffer when bribe takers go scot free. Punishing the corrupt elements in society sends a clear message to the world that the authorities do not tolerate bribery and corruption. In this respect, priority must be given to strengthening bodies that investigate allegations of bribery and corruption.

Corruption cannot be eliminated overnight, but a combination of preventive and punitive mechanisms can lead to a fall in such acts and in the long term, a rise in the rankings.

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