Commemorating 10 years in Office - The People's President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Monday, 15 November 2004  
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Private bus operators and the State

"Enough is enough" indeed. Most public-spirited citizens would be stunned if not enraged at the uncooperative attitude of some leaders of private bus operators' unions to the Transport Minister's initiative to strengthen bus services by introducing more State-run buses to the current Government-managed fleets.

For instance, Lanka Private Bus Operators' Association (LPBOA) President Gemunu Wijeratne was quoted saying that the Transport Authority of the Western Province should consult his union before introducing new State-run buses to the roads. He also warned of wildcat strikes if this measure was not adopted by the authorities. While we believe the State transport authorities should reject these threats out of hand, and go ahead with their plans to render a better bus service to the public, the LPBOA chief's reaction is proof of the degree to which these private bus operator interests have gained control over the country's bus transport system. The "tail is now trying to wag the dog", we are compelled to comment.

We regard these threats by private bus unions to cripple the public transport system by resorting to wildcat strikes as being both illegal and unethical, besides being arrogant and un-accommodative in tone. We call on the Transport Minister to be undeterred by these threats but go ahead with his plans to strengthen bus services in the country. Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the Government serving the people.

These wild threats by private bus operator unions amount to standing things on their head. When private buses were allowed to operate in the late seventies, they were conceived by the then authorities as an entity which supplemented the State run bus service. Private buses were never intended to supplant the States run bus service. Today the very reverse of this arrangement is being threatened by private bus unions. So beholden did past governments become to the private bus sector.

The State cannot allow any selfish interest to supplant its role in public life. This should be plain to see. Accordingly, it is up to the private bus unions to work in cooperation with the government. If the private bus unions have problems to be aired, they are obliged to work in consultation with the State rather than threaten to take the law into their own hands, as they are almost doing now. Accordingly, we call on these unions to work cooperatively with the Government. On the other hand, the Government must stand by the people, come what may.

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Diamonds Are Forever

In these columns last week, we mentioned practically every James Bond movie, apart from Diamonds Are Forever. While the other Bond titles are fanciful, this one is a statement of fact. Diamonds never lose their sparkle and value. But according to latest reports, the diamond industry is losing its lustre thanks to stiff competition from synthetic products.

This is just one of the issues being discussed at a two-day conference in the northern Belgian port city of Antwerp, long known as the world capital of the ultimate gemstone. Every year Antwerp, Belgium's second city, sees some 80 percent of the world's uncut diamonds pass through its workshops and dealing rooms, and more than 50 percent of the global supply of cut diamonds. President Thabo Mbeki from South Africa, which has the world's biggest diamond mine at Kimberley, is the keynote speaker at the parley.

Sri Lanka, though not reputed as a diamond producer, must take a keen interest in the proceedings of this seminar, for the issues are broadly applicable to the gem industry too. As Peter Meeus, head of the Diamond High Council explains, the consumer must continue to consider natural gemstones both unique and rare.

Unfortunately for the diamond and gem industries, these are just the qualities which are under threat from artificially created stones. Only an expert can tell the two varieties apart, but artificial stones are neither rare nor unique. The result, however, is the loss of consumer confidence in the genuine article as well.

Experts point out that technical developments - including high-pressure high-temperature methods to change a diamond's colour, and the creation of gem-quality synthetics - are a new challenge to the industry. Sri Lanka has first hand experience in this regard as our blue sapphires face stiff competition from up-converted geudas.

But how can the 'genuine' industry fight back? As well as a more aggressive marketing strategy, the industry is being urged to tighten certification procedures - specifically by fighting against bogus certificates for synthetic diamonds and gems. The diamond industry already has the Kimberley Certificate for this purpose. Perhaps similar documents can be drawn up also for other high-value gems.

All such certificates should be clear and unequivocal so that the consumers are fully aware of, and confident in, the nature of the product they purchase.

Diamonds and all other gems are a finite resource. Their prices can only go up as they become more scarce. There are reports that huge diamond deposits exist in some celestial bodies far, far away. Until these can be mined someday, real diamonds cut and polished on Planet Earth will remain a 'heavenly' possession.

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