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Ethical values and society

This article was published in the OPA Journal Volume 22 of May 2007

(Continued from last week)

Recognised international organisations of repute such as the United Nations, Amnesty international, Transparency international, and others such, are non governmental agencies, safeguarding the interests of affected peoples all over the world, while trying to ensure that internationally accepted norms and values, are respected by governments and those in authority.

It needs to be recognised that ethical conduct whether at a personal, corporate or at a national level will not necessarily flow codes of ethics and conduct. There needs to be enforceable and justiciable laws and regulations governing conduct at every level, thereby providing the necessary checks and balances to ensure compliance.

The severity of punishment for unethical and corrupt practices can vary from place to place. In China the death penalty has been prescribed for economic crimes perhaps on the basis that such crimes can result in the deaths of many. A radical political party in Sri Lanka too has recently called for the death penalty to be enforced for major economic crimes. In America persons found guilty of major corporate fraud which is considered a criminal offence, are sentenced to stiff jail sentences; e.g. the recently concluded ‘Enron’ case.

Other developed democracies, too, prescribe harsh penalties for fraudulent conduct. Such measures serve as effective ‘checks and balances’ to curb blatant corruption, and to safeguard the public, particularly where public funds are involved.

In Sri Lanka such measures are known to be woefully inadequate. There is a growing clamour both in the media and among the intellectuals that there is an urgent need to curb corruption, particularly in high places.

It is therefore imperative that influential independent organisations such as the OPA, which have emphasised the need for ethical values within our professions, as also within society, in general, should identify major impediments, which hamper national development, (whether it be in the economic, spiritual or moral spheres,) - and which result from a neglect of such ethical values. Urgent remedial measures need to be identified and implemented. Increased public awareness is an essential factor.

As stated earlier ethical values often flow from our respective religious beliefs. One of the great teachers of ethical values of the last century was Mahatma Gandhi, who was a practising Hindu, but one who made a deep study of other religions particularly of Christianity, Buddhism and the Moslem faith, all of which are practised in Sri Lanka, as also in his own motherland, India. He held a deep conviction, that religion and ethical conduct are best taught by example.

In a lecture to a College in Sri Lanka, explaining his faith in God, he had stated “We do not need to proselytize either by our speech or by our writing. We can only do so really with our lives. Let our lives be open books for all to study.” The above is stated in a book titled Mahatma Gandhi “Essays and Reflections”, edited by Dr. Sarvapelli Radhakrishna, the famed Indian philosopher and statesman in a memorial volume published in 1957. Radhakrishna, in his own essay, has this to say about the Mahatma. “He felt that all religions at their best prescribe the same discipline, for man’s fulfilment.

The Vedas and the Tripitaka, the Bible and the Koran, speak to us of the need for self-discipline. The place of prayers and fasts in the lives of the Hindu sages, the Buddha, and Jesus is well-known. The voice of the Muezzin, which breaks the silence of the early dawn, with the summons that have echoed for nearly fourteen centuries; Allah Akbar, God is great, affirms that prayer is better than sleeping.... Gandhi recalls us to the age old tradition of India, the tradition not of mere tolerance, but of profound respect of all faiths.” In recent years however, the growing fundamentalist “Hindutva” movement, has shaken the foundations of India’s secular tradition, based on mutual respect.

It is good to dwell on the teachings and example of Mahatma Gandhi, when considering this subject of “Ethical values and society”, as he can be considered a real life example of one who transcended narrow religious beliefs and dogma, and used religions, which can be considered the fountain of all ethical values, to teach ethical values to others, by and through his own example, and thereby to try to bring about reconciliation, in a divided society, and in a strife ridden world.

Gandhi clarifies how religious dogma, and erroneous interpretation, can result in unethical practices, contrary to true teaching. Quote - “Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or Dharma, and to live at peace with all religions. That being my conception of Hinduism, I have never been able to reconcile myself to untouchability.

I have always regarded it as an excrescence......untouchability is repugnant to reason and to the instinct of mercy, pity or love.... And as I love Hinduism dearer than life itself, the taint (ie of untouchability), has become for me an intolerable burden”. This is an example where the teaching and the actual practice of a religion are seen to be at variance, the result of “man’s inhumanity to man”.

The Mahatma had a great admiration for Christ’s teaching - as contained in “the Sermon on the Mount’. He has observed, “If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say ‘oh yes I am a Christian”. He however castigated Christians of his day for not practising its teachings, and stated - “......you will have to take up sackcloth and ashes with regard to the failure to perform that which is taught in Christ’s sermon.” He referred to Christ’s teaching that “You cannot serve God and Mammon”. He told the students “fly from that self-destroying but destructive show of Mammon, which I see around me today. For you cannot serve Mammon and God, together.” How true even today, and true for all time.

When considering the subject of Ethical Values, the lure of money or “filthy lucre”, is very relevant. In an article written by me, titled “National priorities crying for attention” published in July 2001, I stated - quote “to my mind, particularly with increasing globalisation, the single most destructive and corrupting force today is the growing ‘money based values’, in society.

We need to protect our youth from this danger and understand that the great religions of the world teach us that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’. Let us try to see virtue in simple living - both as individuals and as a nation, and also strive to build bridges in our divided land, so that.....” That observation remains relevant today, with little change, and we as professionals need to strive collectively to improve ethical standards in our society and to steer our youth away from all pervading unbridled ‘money based values’.

When studying the impact of ethical values on society, one cannot but consider the subjects of religion and politics, because of their impact on such values, and their interaction. While it is fashionable today to blame the politicians for all our ills, we need to recognise that politicians are an integral part of society and that their conduct only reflects the state of affairs in our society in general. Finally, we are all responsible.

Mahatma Gandhi had some pertinent observations on the interplay of ethics, religions and politics.

He has stated “My devotion to truth, has drawn me into the field of politics;.....” Radhakrishna further explains - “He (Gandhi) looked upon politics as a branch of ethics and religions. It is not a struggle for power and wealth, but a persistent and continuous effort to enable the submerged millions to attain the good life,... to train them for freedom and fellowship, for spiritual depth and social harmony.

A politician who works for these ends cannot help being religious.... or take the side of evil against good......” We in the OPA have stressed the need for politicians too to adhere to a code of ethics. Perhaps the Mahatma’s ideas can give strength and direction to our thoughts on this.

Note on the Author

Hemal Pieris is a Chartered Civil Engineer, and also functions as an Arbitrator on Civil Engineering disputes. He is the Representative member of the Engineering profession on the OPA, Executive Committee, as also a Forum member. He has functioned as the Chairman, Ethics and Professional Affairs Committee of the OPA.

Emperor Asoka a great warrior king who ruled much of India and Afghanistan, over two thousand years ago, was greatly influenced by Buddhism, later renounced war and sent out missionaries to neighbouring lands including Sri Lanka to spread the teachings of the Buddha. He was an exemplary monarch, who can be considered an embodiment of the desirable virtues in ethics, politics and religion, and one who practised ‘good governance’, another subject which interests us professionals in the OPA. Buddhism today is the religion of the majority in Sri Lanka, and the true practice of the Buddha’s teaching can therefore have a direct impact on ethical values in Sri Lanka. This applies to the teachings of the other major religions too.

Listening to religious talks and discussions on the radio, I have observed, that they often deal with abstract and abstruse teachings of religion and dogma, but do not in any effective manner correlate such teachings to the glaring national and social problems of the day, as they perhaps should. In Sri Lanka today, the problem of war and peace is uppermost in people’s minds. Laksiri Mendis (a lawyer) in a recent article titled ‘good governance and a lasting peace,’ has said “It is absolutely necessary to incorporate interreligious values such as compassion, love, fairness, equity, honesty, forgiveness and reconciliation in order to establish a lasting peace.

These values build confidence and establish a culture of peace in negotiating a peace settlement with the LTTE. After all interreligious values teach nothing but peace and therefore incorporation of such values into the negotiating brief is of paramount importance to the Sri Lanka’s Peace process.” How very true. He has ended on a ‘tuneful’ and meaningful note by quoting the ‘great song writer and composer John Lennon (Beatles)’; quote - “You may say I am a dreamer; I am not the only one. I hope you will join me; to make this world a better one.” Cited above is an example of the interrelation of politics, religion and ethical values, which impact on a seemingly intractable, the ethnic problem and the ongoing peace process.

There are many glaring social problems, resulting from a failure to live by ethical standards and values. As listed earlier, one of the important ethical values, - is the ‘value of life’, particularly of human life. Sri Lanka reportedly has one of the highest murder and suicide rates in the world, despite the fact that we have one of the highest literacy levels in Asia.

Our sociologists, religious, political, and civil society leaders need to address their minds to such pressing problems, and advise on urgent remedial measures as also to impart ethical and religious values. Another major evil is widespread alcoholism, reportedly only second to France. Laws alone have little effect on such social problems. Gandhi has said the best way forward is to teach by example. Perhaps this is what is sadly lacking, in our land today?

Following an article I wrote in the press in July ‘06, titled “ingredients for a lasting Peace,” I was invited to participate in discussions of the “task force on disaster management” set up by the College of General (Medical) Practitioners. From their discussions, the acronym “Scrippt” has evolved, which lists the following identified human qualities; quote, - “Sanctity of life, Calmness, Responsibility, Innovativeness (creativity), Prevention of disaster, Preparedness for disaster, Tolerance.” Their thinking is explained thus: ‘this approach is somewhat similar to that of a branch of ethics known as virtue ethics.

Here the emphasis is more on producing good people rather than working out the ethically correct response in a given situation. Good people it is thought will usually do the right thing when the time comes.’ This provides food for thought. The participants have been multidisciplinary. More professional bodies can follow the example of these doctors, and organise such ethics based, public interest initiatives.

I have above tried to show through examples drawn from Sri Lanka, (and outside), how ethical values and their non adherence, can affect society and its governance, as also how the practice of ethics, politics and religion interact and impact on ethical values in society. While laws if implemented effectively, can curb unethical practices, they will not suffice in imparting ethical values.

Those most responsible for imparting ethical values in society are the religious leaders, teachers, parents, professionals, intellectuals and others such. It is they who can most influence politicians as also youth and other important segments of society. As aptly pointed out by Gandhi and others, teaching by practice and example is the best way forward. Even if we cannot change society or the world at large, we can make an effort to change ourselves.

None of us is perfect, but we can try be better, as also be willing to learn. A good start is through simple living and eschewing “money based values”. Let us strive to give up ostentatious living, and flaunting wealth, driving about in super luxury cars, and living beyond our means, whether as individuals or as a nation. The progressively declining value of the SL Rupee, is indicative of our plight. In India even the rich and powerful largely use Indian made Ambassador cars. (With globalisation that too might soon change for the worse?)

In Sri Lanka more professionals and others can use public transport and thereby set a good example, while easing traffic congestion too? It will be desirable for even a few religious leaders, politicians, professionals, business leaders and other influential, high profile persons, to try to set a public example in simple living. The message then will hopefully spread through the fabric of society, in our much blessed land.

This article was published in the OPA Journal Volume 22 of May 2007.

—END—


 

Questions and Answers

Ruhuna 2001 Multivision (Pvt) Ltd - Comet Cable

Question: I am one, among approximately 10,000 subscribers to the above Cable TV provider which gave me value for the money invested way back in 1999. The sum invested was Rs. 16,000 + with a monthly rental of Rs. 1725. Sometime towards the latter quarter of 2007, a few channels were discontinued and on enquiring from Comet Cable I was told that broadcasting rights were terminated due to the non-payment of fees to the Parent company.

This trend continued till the end of 2007 by which time most channels were not being transmitted, getting through to CC on their mobile phones/land liens were not possible. The last invoice was dated 12/12/2007, for Rs. 1174 (1725 less 550.63 credit given for sports channels) which was paid, no invoice have been received since.

The 60 foot high antennae, secured to two trees and the roof by means of “Guide Wires” are now rusty and could collapse causing severe damage to my roof/neighbours property. When I called a senior Executive of the company he indicated that the company was not in operation, wages have not been paid for quite some time and services provided to customers, discontinued.

I’m positive that there are many others too are in the same predicament, in which case whom do we seek redress from? I would appreciate very much if you could indicate the address of the CAA.

Wasanthakumar Perera - Ja-Ela

Answer: We contacted the TRC (Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka) as they only deal with policy matters they are unable to help. However, they said that since they have allocated the frequency originally given to Comet Cable TV to a new party called Sky-TV, to contact them and that they have agreed to take over all liabilities of Comet Cable TV.

We contacted Sky-TV licence holder and they say that they have not started on any work yet. You can write to the CAA addressing your complaint to the “Director General-Consumer Affairs Authority P.O. Box 1581, Colombo. The CAA office is situated on the 1st and 2nd Floor of the CWE Secretariat Building, Vauxhall Street, Colombo 2.

We contacted the CAA as well and they requested you to write to them and that they will forward it to the TRC. Our advice to you is to get the antenna removed yourself as your own safety and that of your neighbours.

How to obtain certified copies of Birth and Marriage Certificate

Question: Can you please answer me to on how and where I could obtain a certified copy of the Marriage Certificate and certified copies of the Birth Certificates of children of a deceased person.

I require these certificates for the purpose of supporting an application for pension payment to the widow of a deceased.

S. Fernando- Ratmalana

Answer: You have not given sufficient details in your question. If you have the original certificates, you can take photocopies and get the copies certified by an Attorney-at-Law or a Justice of Peace.

If you don’t have the original but have a copy or all the details such as place of registration, date of registration and the number of the certificate or registration you can apply for copies from the office of the District Secretary. You have to apply at the office of the District Secretary where the original registration was made. There is a form available in this office which you have to fill and paste stamps to the value specified thereon. The stamp fee will depend on the number of copies and a search fee if the certificate number is not available, and according to the search period.

Claiming compensation through Mediation Board

Question: I have been attacked by four dogs living in the compound about 100 meters from where I work.

I have reported the matter to the Police but abstained from making an entry in view of principles stated in the Mahinda Chinthanaya.

Can I report this matter to the Mediation Board and ask for compensation.

If so please let me know the name and contact address of the Mediation Board.

Answer: The President of the Mediation Board is R. Ariyadasa Address: “Bawajitha”, Walgama North, Matara, Tel. No. 0602402085. Our understanding is that Mediation Board will handle a maximum claim of Rs. 25,000. Any claim above this value has to be taken up in the District Court. You can however go through the Mediation Board and get a certificate of Non-settlement between the two parties concerned and go to the District Court.

Appeal to get rid of Geckos (Hunas)

Question: Being a daily reader of the Daily News for the last 50 years. I seek your indulgence to recommend an insecticide to kill or get rid of geckos. I have tried rat nip, Mortein Malatheon and all other provisions mixed with food, but that did not work.

The come in hordes as soon as lights are off and disappear at the slightest noise or when lights are switched on.

G. P. De Silva Kurunegala

Answer: We wish to recommend to you to use people who are professionals in this field. If you refer the Rainbow pages of the Sri Lanka Telecom Director, there are several companies listed for “Pest Control”. They will use a spray which can keep off geckos as well as cockroaches and other insects. Usually such treatment is claimed to be effective for three months, after which you have to repeat. After spraying you have to keep the doors and windows closed for about 2 hours during which period, all the inmates of the house including pets should keep out of the house. These companies will not reveal to us the name of the chemical they use.

Sale of cars imported on concessionary duty by Public Officers

Question: Can such vehicles be sold before five years on payment of duty on depreciated CIF value less duty already paid in part?

There will be no loss to Govt. Instead, Govt. will get additional revenue.

There will be no abuse because an officer cannot make a profit after paying balance duty.

He will sell only if the vehicle is no longer required due to change of residence, job inability to drive etc or need of funds for medical, educational matrimonial purposes etc.

Please see attached press notice-Daily News 8/6/07, from which it appear this is possible.

A Public Officer

Answer: Yes, you can sell such vehicles imported by Public Officers on concessionary duty within the five year period on payment of duty on the depreciated value. Since you are paying duty on the depreciated value it is unlikely that the concessionary duty already paid can be deducted.

If you sell the vehicle after five years no duty is payable other than the concessionary duty paid at the time of import/purchase.

In order to sell within five years, you have to obtain approval from the “Trade, Tariff and Investment Policy Department” situated at the General Treasury Building, Colombo. (Behind the old Parliament or Presidents Office now). Thereafter, you have to pay the balance duty to the Customs Department.

You can get full details on the web page www.terasury.gov.lk under Trade, Tariff and Investment Policy Section, under circulars of 30/3/2007 and others.

Send in your questions

The Organisation of Professional Associations 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: opaorg@dynanet.lk or opa@sltnet.lk, opasrilanka@gmail.com Fax: 2559770 or write to the Professional Centre, 275/75, Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha, off Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7.

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