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Monday, 22 November 2010

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Dehiwala roundabout traffic mess

The chaotic traffic movement of the Dehiwala roundabout even after the advent of the wonder flyover is mainly due to the wrong siting and placement of the vital Colombo and Mt Lavinia bus stands on either side of the roundabout of the flyover stretches - firstly, the bus stands most unimaginatively nestle and hug the very curves of the roundabout, so much so that the very first bus stopped straightaway blocks the alternate flow of traffic from the Dehiwala railway station and Dehiwala police station approaches.

Secondly and confusedly the halted bus causes automatic bunching and a pile-up of traffic. Adding further misery to the “tied-up” mess is that the bus stands have been placed most indifferently “slap bang” on the two pedestrian crossings obstructing the normal flow and movement of pedestrians?

Residents and of course the motorists using the roundabout are constantly reminded of the poor planning and siting of the two vital bus stands - how come the police seem indifferent to this daily confused road scenarios?


Garbage and babies

It was reported in the print media recently that Health Ministry had mentioned that there had been no Rabies deaths reported from the country during the past three months as a result of destroying garbage under the National Dengue Control program implemented countrywide. This is heartening news to all of us. As layman, we shall be pleased to know through the Superintendent of the Anti-Rabies campaign or a Medical Officer involved in the control of ‘Rabies’, how our stray dogs get infected with this dreaded disease. As I have heard, Flies breed in rotting garbage, which may be a ‘carrier’ of germs causing ‘Bowl’ diseases, etc. The ‘Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘Garbage’ as ‘domestic rubbish or waste’. “rubbish is defined as waste material and discarded items or something that has no value.” An early clarification through the media is welcome.


When will we learn to be grateful?

I have been in the tourist trade since 1979, and at the height of the escalation of the war our business dipped to a very low ebb. The three decades of trauma witnessed and brought gloomy days, as at the commencement of every season bombs exploded which made and labelled this island the most dreaded place. The trade was in such dire straits that we saw the moon and stars during daylight and the sun at night?

The end of the war has brought great hope to everyone, especially for tourism. The hotels who were totally surviving on local guests, who were extremely kind and charming when the situation in our country was very bad. The sudden change with the increase of tourists arrivals has totally changed their attitudes, as the local clientele is totally sidelined and ignored.

They should remember there were days when the lights in the lobby and the dining room were partially switched to cut down cost. The hotels staff was retrenched when their owners found it a great liability. The management even curtailed the staff meals.

This should not be the attitude as I simply do not know when will we learn to be grateful. I only taught lizards change colours, as the more and more I come to know and learn about human beings the more and more I become truly loving and close to my pet dog.


Incorrect sentence

Our office messenger brought a set of tender documents from the National Institute of Education, Maharagama. I found an official advice pasted on the cover of it in which a sentence in capital letters printed thus:

‘As this very import and your participation will be highly appreciated.’

Can a state institution meant for education make such a blunder? May be the draft or rather the note would have not reached a responsible officer before it went for print.

Whatever the reason it looks odd against the reputation of the National Institute of Education.


Delays in labour matters

Labour Commissioner Department depends on his Assistant Commissioners to handle the cases and finalize them. But it clearly appears those Commissioners are simply warming their seats. They do not have a ‘follow up’ procedure even of a very few cases they have handled and given verdicts in favour of victims.

In some cases, employers are asked to pay the dues or compensation to the victims but such employers do not care at all to pay them. The files then lie for years despite the victims giving reminders to such Commissioners.

There are cases where the dues of the poor workers are between rupees 5,000 to 100,000 which are not paid by employers though the order has been given by the Labour Dept.

I request the Labour Minister to instruct the Assistant Commissioners to be duty conscious and help those who are discriminated by their employers, specially in regard to various payments that are negated to them in spite of their rights of receiving them, if brought to the notice of the Labour Dept.

A new law should be introduced to pay interest to the victims if the employers delay or elude making such payments after the verdict is pronounced.

If the cabinets of the subject clerks are checked unattended files could be seen piled up.

It is sad to note employees, of whom some are old and feeble, being cruelly treated by their employers visiting the Labour Dept. to get some consolation waiting for years with no positive action being taken to compensate such victims.

It must also be mentioned here that in a few cases where employers deposit the required amounts at the Labour Dept. as required (after such delays) are not informed to the employees for collection of same who are unaware of such deposits made unless they visit the Department to find out.


Serving the people

The President’s exhortation to state officials in Vavuniya, reported on page 1, Daily News October 20, 2010 is an eye opener for all Sri Lankans. He emphasizes that all citizens must be treated equally “without taking into consideration their caste, ethnic, religious and other differences.” In short, it means that there cannot be discrimination or favouritism under any circumstances including economic status or political views.

This is in accordance with the provisions of Chapter III of our constitution on fundamental rights which guarantees to every citizen freedom of worship, freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, equality before the law, against discrimination, protection against unlawful arrest etc etc etc.

These rights are inseparable from the provisions of Chapter VI of the Constitution where in, inter alia, every citizen shall work conscientiously in his chosen profession, preserve and protect public property, prevent its misuse and waste. This applies more to those who are paid directly from public funds, the public servants and elected representatives, who hold public funds and property in trust for the people.

It is fitting that the President himself has drawn attention to these vital matters at Vavuniya, the capital city of the Vanni, in the aftermath of the war as a result of which the people of that area have suffered immensely and will continue to suffer for a very long time.

Citizens in other parts of our country too have suffered in many ways. Innocent people men, women and children have lost their lives, loved ones, limbs and sometimes all their property. The plight of such people is indeed pathetic. Recently we have seen the ravages of the weather in Pakistan and elsewhere causing similar loss and destruction. In our case it is not nature but our own doing.

The President and the Government have a very arduous task to create the environment essential for reconciliation and reconstruction to prevent a recurrence of the horrors of war and violence. It is our duty to assist actively to achieve this objective sooner than later.

Practice is better than precept is a well-known premise. The head of a family, principal a school, heads of department, secretaries of ministries, elected leaders of local bodies and parliament and ministers must set the correct example. The police have a very vital role to play. All these persons are duty bound by the Constitution and now the orders of the President to serve the people with honesty and integrity. Obviously, that is not happening and hence the President himself has to spend his time talking of broken bridges, potholed roads, dilapidated school buildings etc etc etc.

In this regard the actions of some Ministers openly violated the constitutional provisions referred to earlier. We have seen these on TV. They bring the President and the Government a very bad name. It is true that nowadays people soon forget the indiscretions of Ministers and other officials. There is a feeling of helplessness. One reason in perhaps the lack of unity within and amongst the opposition political parties which in a democracy have to be the watchdogs for the people.

The war is thankfully behind us but almost everybody has unresolved grievances. Workers, university students, farmers, unemployed and mainly housewives face issues that prevent a united effort that is needed to rise up as a nation.

An example or two would be appropriate to understand the problems caused by Ministers. Earlier this week I needed to meet the Grama Seva Niladhari to get a document signed. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were blank days. Thursday was the designated day for the public, 8.30 to 11.30. A notice at the office on Thursday morning stated that the GS would not be available as a minister had summoned a meeting which went on till about 1230 at the Divisional Secretariat.

So, really, it is the Minister who prevented the GS from serving the public by arranging a meeting on the day predetermined and notified as a day for the public. Why could he not arrange any other day? I know that many people cursed the inconvenience caused.

Another day I had go to a timber shed at Rajagiriya for an urgent purchase. Normally it is a five-minute drive and the transaction could be completed and I could return in less than thirty minutes. Unfortunately the road to Parliament was closed for a VIP to pass, without notice or warning. The convenience of this one person caused a huge traffic build up on several roads. It was noon and very hot. Scores of people were affected. It took me one and a half hours. Our elected representatives and high officials must be more considerate and thoughtful of our welfare.

A significant reason for apathy in the public service is political interference. About two years ago, a policeman on traffic duty when questioned as to why he did not act against motorists breaking the rules at an important junctions told me the story of a colleague who received a punishment transfer for apprehending the driver of a politician!!


Worst condition of road from Hemmathagama to Mawanella

I am surprised to find that the road from Hemmathagama to Mawanella has remained unrepaired and unsuitable for bus routes for such a long period. The motorists find it extremely difficult to drive their vehicles along this damaged road which is a vital link with Mawanella town in dealing with trade activities and other hospital and courts services.

It is a sad and unpleasant scene of a lowlying bridge across a river near Wagolla along this road. During the rainy seasons, this bridge is impassable due to flood of the river. Unfortunately, no politicians are interested in repairing this main bus route inspite of repeated public appeals.

I feel it is my duty to bring this matter to the attention of media as a measure to alert the Ministry of Highways.


Dooli Ella Road Neluwa

Dooli Ella Road, Neluwa is in a neglected condition. Bordering the famous Sinharaja forest the Dooli Ella waterfall is one of the beautiful sights in Southern Sri Lanka. Many people visit this spot daily, but quite strangely the access road is not maintained. Some potholes are as deep as ten inches.

Our van driver, trying to avoid a pothole, nearly fell into a deep ditch.


Highways and offenders

I refer to your editorial under caption ‘Enforce the law’ (DN 5/11) which is timely.

Your valuable comment was in the wake up of the police deciding to prosecute drivers who fail to dip the headlamps of their vehicles thus causing fatal accidents to oncoming motorists. The very appropriate question of yours as to why the police did not take action against such drivers under an existing traffic law all this time in this regard since 1983 should awake the law enforcement authorities from their slumber.

As we see, most of the offenders against the traffic laws are youngsters, specially of affluent families.

They, having the influence of VIPs and money in hand, elude from their offences executed just by a telephone call to a higher police officer or paying the fines imposed. Thus escalate accidents, some ending up fatally depriving the loved ones or breadwinners from their families.

This cannot be allowed to perpetuate and as suggested by you, and would be of same opinion of the law abiding citizens too, imprisonment would be the best punishment for breach of law.

From recently we could see traffic cops pouncing hard on traffic rule violators to maintain road discipline and in the cases of speeding and not dipping the lights in the night, harsh damnation like confinement in prison should be introduced. For some people it is the mental and physical suffering that will teach them a lesson not otherwise.

Apart from this subject, I would like to suggest or rather request the top traffic cop to stop cops manning the traffic lights while in operation as their whimsical hand signals cause not only confusion to the motorists but also risk the life of pedestrians too. Millions have been spent for traffic lights so as to electronically control the traffic methodically as required by the authority concerned. not for the police to act on their follies. Should there be a necessity to adjust the flow of vehicles in a different way for convenience and avoid congestion, like at the Urugodawatte Junction and other places, the police could request the Chief City Administrator (CMC) to adjust the signals accordingly.

Above all, people are reluctant to assist a serious victim of an accident to a hospital as they will be subject to various unwanted interrogations by the police related to the incidence and have to appear in courts too. Who will like this? Hence, the Government should simplify the formalities as saving a life as a meritorious act.


Corruption in prisons

It is a well-known fact that if you “throw money”, you can get anything from heroin, ganja, alcohol, babul etc. Hand phones are also available among most prisoners. All these are available. Why? The corrupt guards, provide these as long as you pay them “substantial” bribes.

Although CCTV cameras are being installed the prison guards and officers will find some way to circumvent the surveillance of the cameras.

One way of checking on these abuses by prison guards etc is for the Police Anti-Vice Squads to conduct surprise raids at regular intervals. The prison guards should be grilled by the police to ascertain how banned items are available in prisons. Another is the transfer of suspected corrupt officers “with immediate effect” to a far away prison. Also those with five years in one prison should be transferred.

These are matters that require the immediate attention of the Minister.


Self Sufficiency in Rice

The news headline on page 2 of the Daily News, October 30, 2010, “Self sufficiency in rice by year end” referred ostensibly to what the Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa had said to the Provincial Council Members of the Gampaha District.

According to the first para the Minister is reported to have said “Sri Lanka has the potential of achieving self sufficiency in rice production at the end of the year.” If indeed that is correct then your headline is misleading and a disservice to the Minister.

Many politicians of different hues have promised people self sufficiency in rice during the past 62 years. But, it has not happened.

According to the May 2008, Monthly Bulletin of the Central Bank, Table 42, US$ 38.7 million of rice was imported in 2007. Upto March 2008, US$ 1.4 million of rice was imported. Will a kind reader or the authorities provide the figures for 2008, 2009 and 2010?

Self sufficiency means production of several different varieties of rice to meet consumption needs of people. For, people in the South require raw (kekulu), whereas those in the hill country and some other areas prefer boiled rice. In the towns, cities and hundreds of eating houses samba is preferred. The elite and star class hotels require the more exotic varieties of samba and/or basmati. It is only when all these needs are met and we have surplus as security against short falls can self sufficiency be claimed. Most importantly, the majority of our people who are poor should have good quality rice at a price they can afford. Self sufficiency would have no meaning if the majority cannot afford to buy rice.

The achievement of this objective requires careful planning and execution in the following areas:

(i) selection of suitable land and extents

(ii) provision of irrigation facilities, involving storage, diversion, proper distribution and management of water

(iii) providing suitable seed, fertiliser, pest weed control

(iv) timely harvesting, collection and storage of paddy with minimum spoilage

(v) proper milling to produce good quality rice with minimum wastage

(vi) proper storage and distribution of rice.

Unfortunately efforts at self sufficiency have not been fruitful or has taken so long due to several reasons

1. Failure to learn from previous mistakes. For eg. the B H Farmer evaluation of the Gal Oya Project identified some shortcomings.

2. Some of these shortcomings were repeated at Udawalawe Project. The soil on the right bank (28,000 Acres) was not ideal for paddy cultivation due to porosity. But politicians decided to settle paddy farmers. As a result, there was unnecessary loss of water and insufficient water for development of 30,000 acres or so on the left bank.

3. Corruption and wastage which has become endemic. In the decades immediately after independence, the scale was small. Since 1977 particularly it has progressively increased. A World Bank review report stated that about 30 percent of funds provided for the Mahaweli Project had been wasted. In 1985 or so corruption in the Kotmale Project was notified to the Presidential Commission on Bribery and Corruption appointed by late J R Jayawardana.

The Commission was suddenly disbanded. Although it had received over 3,000 complaints only a very few were investigated and the guilty persons punished.

No plan or program, however good, will bring the desired results unless corruption and wastage is prevented or minimised if not totally eradicated.

Let’s hope that self sufficiency is in fact achieved by this year’s end and proof thereof provided by stopping the import of rice on a large-scale in 2011.


Eye problems

Thank you, President, for attending to blindness in the island. Once an old lady was admitted to Eye Hopsital - blind in both eyes. That made her become very angry-refusing to eat the food given or take tablets given to improve her health. After the operation her bandage was removed in a few days; she shouted: “Whatever anyone says I can now see” (Kawroo mona kivvath than nam mata paynava) I can never forget those words. After that she ate well and took vitamins given without any fuss. She also had the other eye operated for cataract


Preoccupation with politicians and Hollywood stars

Our newspapers have two categories of people whom we should not waste even one second of our precious time but about whom the newspapers write volumes and volumes and we stupid readers keep lapping them up. Yes one is the politicians and the other is the Hollywood actors.

Actually the newspapers reflect the attitude of the people, or is it the other way about? Is it the people who reflect the attitude of the papers? Do we get our ideas shaped by the newspapers? Is it because the papers keep publishing useless, horrible or tasteless news about small people that we the Sri Lankans also have become ‘small’ in our thinking? Have we been brainwashed by our newspapers to magnify the insignificant and ignore the important matters? Whatever our stupid, useless, undeserving politicians do become the big news. It is talked about for weeks.

It is commented on, praised, condemned - anything but, taken action about. We have become the gossiping, grumbling, resenting people - we have become sick and tired of them but still keep lapping up their stories because they have become our past time and we have nothing better to do.

We don’t know much about anything else to do. Except the Hollywood stars - even if they sigh it is news! Their adulterous life is juicy news. Their moods are what we live on. Their sizes are what we waiting to know about. Who is sleeping with who is what makes our day. Aren’t we a shameful nation?

Why not for a change stop harping on the atrocities committed by the politicians? Not that we are going to do anything much about them anyway.

All of us agree one and all - we are just a bunch of lotus eaters. So might as well talk about only the good deeds done by them- that is if at all they do anything worthwhile - or else let’s talk about something worthwhile. Even the weather. Or the birds. Or the moon. Anything but these two. Please.


Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

From the media we discover that both the Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and the Church of Ceylon have gone before this Commission and their submissions have been given wide publicity.

The Church in this country though a minority has in its membership persons from all the racial and linguistic groups in our land. Therefore the church works in all parts of the country with all people.

Thus what the church has said must be taken seriously if we in Sri Lanka want to learn lessons and work out reconciliation for in a sense the Church in Sri Lanka is a part of the body politic and certainly a part of the Sri Lankan electorate.

However sadly some Sri Lankans without responding to this situation have reacted in some ways. When will we in Sri Lanka ever learn to appreciate the genuine work done by a minority faith community in our midst?

I hope and pray that we as a nation will have the mindset to appreciate the good work done by all our faith communities.

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