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
âThe Sri Lankan Bar is the Bar at which I started my professional
life. It taught me much of what Iâve ever learnt regarding professional
obligation, professional standards and law in its practical application.
My debt to it has been tremendous and what Iâve 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.
âThere 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,â he said.
âNow 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
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
âAfter 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, itâs not available.
Thereâs 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 thereâs 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 âWorld
Communityâ that is able to do something to supply these needs.
In the words of Rabindranath Tagore âThe world today is wild with the
delirium of hatredâ thatâs a beautiful description of what the world
situation is at the present moment, and he says, that âthe parts to a
solution are tangled with greed.â
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.
âNow shortly after World War II, writer Emery Reeves wrote a book
called the âAnatomy of Peace,â 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, âOh, would some power the gifts he
give us, to see ourselves as others sees usâ 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.
âNow 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
Iâve 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
* 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
âAll 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.â
âSo 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.â
(To be continued next week)
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 âwidowerâ
(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?
Answer: You have mentioned that a claim for a refund of your
contributions was turned down by the Director of Pensions by his letter
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
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
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,
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 Niladhariâs 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 Niladhariâs. The system currently
works on a complaint being attended to only. The Grama Seva Niladhariâs
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
Commissionerâs Officer, Grama Seva Niladhariâs Office and Post Offices.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Womenâs 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.
A Panel Discussion on âAttainment levels of candidates in Maths,
Science and English at GCE (O/L) Examinationsâ 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
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.
A public seminar in association with the Committee for International
Law and International Relations on âHuman Rightsâ 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.
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 âDaily News OPA at Your Serviceâ 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.