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Building bridges across cultural barriers

The following is a lecture recently delivered at the OPA by Judge C.G. Weeramantry - former Vice President of the International Court of Justice. Sir Hayden Stark Prof. of Law - Monash University and Emeritus Professor, Founder Chairman, Board of Trustees Weeramantry International for Peace, Education and Research Winner - UNESCO Peace Education Prize - 2006.

“The Sri Lankan Bar is the Bar at which I started my professional life. It taught me much of what I’ve ever learnt regarding professional obligation, professional standards and law in its practical application. My debt to it has been tremendous and what I’ve achieved later on has been very largely due to what I learnt in my initial years as a member of the Bar of Sri Lanka.

The Organisation of Professional Associations synthesises for the different professions, the ideas of service, honour, integrity and general concern with the problems of the country which all the professions share and it synthesises this in a manner, which brings it to the practical service of the entire nation.

The professions who are its members represent the highest points of dedication of expert knowledge to the service of the people and long may these professions continue to serve the traditions and fulfil ideals of the various learnered bodies which they represent.

“There were many advantages of having my training in the Sri Lankan Bar not the least of which was the cross cultural composition of our legal system, the cross cultural composition of our community and the many ways in which all these different cultures were integrated together into a body of law and standard of service, which I think stood the country very well ever since the profession was formed.

Also, this has led to greater sensitivity to the different cultural traditions, religious systems and legal traditions of the country and Sri Lanka in that respect is extremely fortunate, as combining such a variety of traditions and religious backgrounds that it enables the members of its professions to be really multicultural and to perhaps provide some multicultural perspectives which would be of advantage to professions in other parts of the world,” he said.

“Now in view of the social and political scene, that we see around the world today and the tremendous tensions and conflicts that seem to be raging in so many parts of the world, we need as professionals, to reflect on the causes of this and there are certain features that emerge straight away.

It will be self evident to all that is an age of the unprecedented power of humanity through technological power, economic power, organisational power and communications power to lead all of humanity upwards towards that sunlit plateau of peace and justice, which has been the dream of humanity ever since civilisation began.

Unfortunately this is not happening and one is compelled to reflect on the reasons for this. One is also compelled to reflect on the paradoxes that in an age when science has grown to the point that it can assure a world of comfort for all.

Wealth has grown to the point where it can afford a world of prosperity to all. Political Organisations have grown to the point where it can give a world of peace to all. Centuries of civilisation have given us a culture and can give us an enlightened lifestyle for all.

The sacrifice of tens of millions of lives in various world wars, gives us the background to a world of compassion for all. International law gives us the apparatus for a world of justice for all.

Yet, despite all these we are floundering in the midst of all this wealth of opportunity all this abundance of riches we are floundering in the midst of all sorts of trials and tribulations which we should have been able, quite easily, to banish from the human community throughout the world.

“After all the world spends on one estimate which I read the other day, Seven Hundred and Eighty Billion Dollars and another estimate over One Trillion Dollars on armaments.

This money seems easy to find. But the Fifty or Seventy Billion Dollars that is required to provide education for all, protection against Aids, pure water supply for all and generally the basic needs for all people on the planet. About Seventy or Eighty Billion Dollars, tenth of that money is difficult to find, it’s not available.

There’s something wrong somewhere, ten times that amount of money for purposes of destruction, easy to find, one tenth of that money for all these useful purposes, impossible! So there’s something wrong somewhere and when we think of what is wrong, I think we will find that is it the various parts of the world community have grown up in isolated compartments, seeing very little of each others traditions, cultures, problems and needs and therefore not rising to the level of a “World Community” that is able to do something to supply these needs.

In the words of Rabindranath Tagore “The world today is wild with the delirium of hatred” that’s a beautiful description of what the world situation is at the present moment, and he says, that “the parts to a solution are tangled with greed.”

The path to a solution is tangled with greed. So greed and lack of perspective seems to be two of the factors that prevent our being able to solve our problems and all this results very, very largely from the compartmentalisation of the world community to the point where you see a problem only from your own point of view.

“Now shortly after World War II, writer Emery Reeves wrote a book called the “Anatomy of Peace,” in which he pointed out that the self same event, the identical event and reported with the identical facts in the newspapers of Moscow, Rome, London, Tokyo, New Delhi etc. would be perceived by different populations in totally different ways. Reasonable people in each of those capitals, would assess those identical facts in such a manner that they led to totally different conclusions. Why? Because they do not see each others points of view. I

In the words of the Scottish poet, “Oh, would some power the gifts he give us, to see ourselves as others sees us” We cannot see ourselves as others see us, we see ourselves only from our own points of view. And we have breakdown these barriers to understanding that are completely obstructing any move towards global progress.

This becomes especially dangerous in a world of:

* Dwindling earth resources

* Shrinking distances

* Instant communication

* Greater independence

All these are rapidly shrinking the entire planet to one common home, of one common family, the human community. But we refuse to see it that way and still see ourselves in isolated groups.

“Now what divides us? The number of possible driving factors is legions. Linguistic factors, racial factors, tribal factors, religious factors, regional factors, national factors, economic factors, educational factors, all these divide people into compartments.

The divide society is criss-crossed. And you get into a little compartment and in that compartment, you grow up in that compartment, you live with people who share similar views and from that compartment you do not see the outside world.

Consequently we lose the benefit of the treasures of other cultures, the achievements of other civilisations, the wisdom of other traditions, the confluence of great religions, the richness of other languages, the problems of other groups. All those perspectives are lost to us. We see only a clash of civilisations and that is dangerous talk that is in the air today.

I’ve just returned from overseas and this talk of a clash of civilisations is growing to a dangerous level, when in fact we should be talking of a confluence of civilisation. Because all the great cultures of the world teach basically the same central truths that set of core values, that is taught by all the religions and cultures of the world is the same.”

* Peace; * Assistance to those in distress; * Compassion; * Avoidance of force; * The peaceful settlement of disputes; * Protection of the environment; * Justice; * Unity of the human family; * Dignity of the individual human being; * The obligations of those who are in positions of privilege; * The notion of duty to the community rather than the rights of the individual; * The avoidance of waste

“All these great world traditions, lead to that reservoir of core principles that self same reservoir of core principles, which we tend to neglect and we harp on the supposed divisions and distinctions of doctrines between these different religions.”

“So I think a tremendous effort has to be mounted, to show how all the great religions of the world tend to the same result, the same core values, which any child can understand and which all the human family share so strongly. Yet we cannot perceive this because were told there are these divisions between religions.

They think differently, they have different history, they have different needs and so forth. So we have got to think in terms of saving the whole vessel of humanity rather than short term division which sink the whole vessel on which we all are.”

(To be continued next week)

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Questions and Answers

Refund of W & OP Fund Contributions

Question: I retired from a permanent post in the public service having contributed to the above Fund. Subsequently I obtained a divorce from my wife. All my children were majors at the time of the divorce. Since the relevant Ordinance (Cap 618) treats me as a ‘widower’ (Section 20), I made a claim for a refund of my contribution to the Fund, in terms of Section 49 of the Ordinance.

The Director of Pensions by his letter dated 4.10.2000 turned down my claim. My appeal against the decision dated 24.10.2000 is still pending resolutions. What is my remedy?

I have since contracted a second marriage. If I cannot get a refund of contributions to the Fund, will my present wife be entitled to a W & OP Pension after my demise? Your advice will be greatly appreciated?

Pensioner,
Mt. Lavinia.

Answer: You have mentioned that a claim for a refund of your contributions was turned down by the Director of Pensions by his letter dated 04.10.2000.

The W & OP Section of the Pensions Department informs us that your appeal would have been rejected for one of the following reasons.

(a) Your children would have been less than 26 years of age

(b) You would have already retired from service at the time of your application.

You also mention that you had contracted a second marriage. If the marriage has been registered after your retirement the present wife is not entitled for W & OP benefits after your demise as they inform that your civil status at the time of retirement is considered for the W & OP benefits.

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Issue of forms for Registration of Voters

Question: The Grama Seva Niladhari did not deliver a BC form to my house for the revision of voters register. What should I do? I am resident here for 30 years. I understand that several other households too have not received the forms.

R. M. B. Senanayake,
Colombo.

Answer: Registration Forms cannot be obtained from the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Elections (City). The Grama Seva Niladhari of the area is the only authority from whom a registration form can be obtained.

As stated by you if the Grama Niladharis has not delivered the form you may contact the Assistant Commissioner of Elections (City) on 2872247 who will personaly instruct the Grama Niladhari of the area to deliver a registration form to your address.

In areas where there are no Grama Seva Niladhari’s the enumerators from the Election Department are distributing the Forms. Distribution of Forms that commenced from the 1st of June was expected to be completed within 3 weeks, however due to practical problems it will take a little longer in the City.

Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to ensure the distribution and collection of Forms by the Grama Seva Niladhari’s. The system currently works on a complaint being attended to only. The Grama Seva Niladhari’s are expected to issue an acknowledgment/receipt when they collect the completed forms, if not issued again the public is expected to complain for any action to be taken.

After all this in November/December the list of names registered will be available for verification by the public at the Elections Commissioner’s Officer, Grama Seva Niladhari’s Office and Post Offices.

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Disposal of Duty Free Vehicles for Public Servants

Question: (i) Can such vehicles be sold within five years on payment of balance duty on depreciated value?

(ii) Is any duty payable on sale after five years? One of the conditions on which the permit is given is that the vehicle cannot be sold for five years.

C. Fernando,
Dehiwala

Answer: You cannot dispose the vehicle for 5 years under any circumstances. There is no facility to even pay any duty and sell within 5 years. After 5 years you can sell the vehicle and no duty is payable at all after the 5 years.

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Permanent Resident Visa/Permit

Question: I am foreigner married to a Sri Lankan and living in Sri Lanka since 2002. I would like to know if I oculd be granted a permanent visa/or a residence permit for a longer period whle still retaining my foreign passport.

So far I have received my fist visa for one year and subsequently extension every two years twice. In total I have been here for five years.

Jeannick Ganesh,
Colombo 5

Answer: As per the Sri Lanka regulations there is no facility to obtain a permanent visa or permit. You have to continue seeking extension of your visa once in every two years.

Alternatively you have to apply for citizenship. However, you can retain your foreign passport and also be a citizen of Sri Lanka under the dual citizenship scheme. For further details you may contact the Immigration and Emigration Department on Tel. Nos. 5329000-500.

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Minimum Wage for Pre-school Service Trade

Question: The answer to the question on above that appeared in the Daily News of 21/06/2007 was very useful for the employers and employees of the pre-school trade.

It states that the minimum wage for a teacher is Rs. 5575 and the minimum wage for an Assistant Teacher is Rs. 4,137.50.

Does it mean that it included the Budgetary Relief Allowance also?

That is the employer can pay an Assistant Teacher only a sum of Rs. 4,137.50 and the relevant percentages of EPF and ETF on that.

Since this information is extremity important for the employers of the pre-school trade wish you would check with the relevant authorities and publish a reply early.

S. Wickremasooriya,
Gampaha

Answer: According to the notice published in the Daily News of 17th May 2007 the wages effective from 1st May 2007 to the following grades are as follows:

1. Within Municipal Limits

(a) Teachers Rs. 5,375 p.m.

(b) Assistants Rs. 4,137.50 p.m.

2. Within Urban Council Limits

(a) Teachers Rs. 5,000 p.m.

(b) Assistants Rs. 3,850 p.m.

3. Within Pradeshiya Sabha

Limits

(a) Teachers Rs. 4,025 p.m.

(b) Assistants Rs. 3,162.50 p.m.

The services specified in (b) above, includes any other service connected with or incidental to the services specified in (a) above.

As per the Labour Department sources an advertisement has been published in the Daily News of 11th June 2007 on the payment of budgetary relief allowances in addition to the above minimum wages.

Therefore, teachers and assistants are entitled to the minimum wage and the budgetary relief allowance for Rs. 1,000 monthly as per Act No. 36 of 2005.

Although the advertisement in the Daily News of 11th June 2007 states that the minimum wage effective from 1st May 2007 as Rs. 5,000 for various trades listed and pre-school trade is also included as the last item, the minimum wage does not apply to the pre-school trade but only the inclusion of the Budgetary Relief allowance we are told.

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Professional Status for Librarians

Question: The Sri Lanka Library Association is a founder member of the OPA (1975). Librarians are grouped as professionals by the International Standards Classification of Occupations 1988/Index of Occupational Titles.

However, the Sri Lankan Government is reluctant to recognise librarians as professionals and hence they are under paid. The newly appointed Salaries and Cadres Review Committee too has deprived them of the rights they already enjoyed. It is since 1990 we are trying to get due recognition for Librarians in the Public Sector.

Dolitha Andradi

Answer: According to the Salaries and Cadre Commission there had been 126 categories in the Government Sector and the salaries have varied according to their duties and functions. The Librarians have been recognised as of the staff grade.

The recent amalgamation of services has brought the categories of employees in the Government Sector to 37 and the Librarians have been included with those employees with similar backgrounds and educational qualifications. Librarians are still recognised as staff grade employees. They have not been downgraded or underpaid.

According to the Salaries and Cadre Commission they have not deprived any rights enjoyed by them.

They also inform that the minimum entry qualifications for entry to the Librarian Service is Advanced Level qualifications and that they will be promoted to higher Grade. (Gd.III A) only if they obtain a degree in Library Science from the University of Kelaniya with due experience they will be promoted to Gd. II, Gd. I and Special Grade of the Library Service.

However, the Salaries and Cadre Commission do not recognise them as a parallel service to SLAS, as their service cannot be compared to an entry level member to the SLAS.

However, there are Librarians who hold Special Posts (i.e the Chief Librarian of the Colombo Municipal Council). They are on par or even higher than some SLAS Officers.

The argument put forward by them is that the school librarian or those working as Librarians in Government Departments cannot be considered as those carrying out Executive functions. They will continue to be recognised as staff grade employees.

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Seminar on Electoral reform

A seminar on the Proposals of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform was held at the OPA on June 26. The seminar was attended by Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Urban Development and Chairman, Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms, P. Dayaratne, Minister of Plan Implementation and Member of the Committee and Dew Gunasekera Minister of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, a Member of the Committee.

Dr. Liyanage, Secretary to the Select Committee explained the proposals which consisted of a combination of Electorate based First Past the Post, and District and National based Proportional Representation.

The preferential Vote System is to be abolished. The total number of Members will remain at 225 but the number of Electorates will be reduced to 140. 70 members will be elected on the basis of District Proportional Representation System and 15 Members elected based on a National List.

Out of the 15 National List Members, 5 will be bonus seats for the Party with the highest number of votes, 3 to be reserved for the un-represented minor parties. The balance 7 to be allocated based on the strength of the votes received by parties at national level.

Women’s representation is to be ensured by requiring parties to nominate a woman candidate for every third place in the District and National Proportional Representation lists. A Delimitation Commission has been proposed for the fresh demarcation of electorate boundaries for the proposed 140 electorates.

A discussion took place and the consensus was that the proposals contained many positive features but may require further consideration to allay the concerns of minority groups.

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Panel discussion

A Panel Discussion on “Attainment levels of candidates in Maths, Science and English at GCE (O/L) Examinations” will be held at the OPA Auditorium on July 13 at 5.30 p.m.

The speakers will be W. Manamperi former Project Officer - National Institute of Education (NIE) I.W.D. Leelaratne, former Additional Commissioner of Examinations Mrs. S. Leelaratne, former Science Controller - Dept. of Education and D.M. Mahanama, former Asst. Director of Education.

The moderator will be Prof. W. Ariyadasa De Silva former Dean. Faculty of Education University of Colombo while the summing up will be by Prof. H.D. Gunawardena, Prof. of Chemistry, University of Colombo.

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Seminar

A public seminar in association with the Committee for International Law and International Relations on “Human Rights” will be held at the OPA Auditorium on July 20 commencing 6.30 p.m. The key-note speaker will be Prof. M. Karunadasa.

The other speakers scheduled are Prof. Nalin De Silva, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Paikiosothy Saravanamuttu.

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Send in your questions

The Organisation of Professional Association of Sri Lanka (OPA) will cover questions in all professions and subjects of common interest to the public in the “Daily News OPA at Your Service” page every Thursday. Please make your question brief.

Questions can be directed to the OPA on e-mail, [email protected] or [email protected], Fax. 2559770 or write to the Professional Centre, 275/75 Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, Off Bauddhaloka Mawatha Colombo 7.

 

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