Letters to the Editor

31st December 2000




Dr. Stanley Kalpage

A tribute to an exceptional human being

The Stanley Kalpage I was acquainted with as Secretary/ Higher Education and Chairman of the University Grants Commission, had always seemed a difficult man. Since 1982, as a TV correspondent there were many a time that I had crossed swords with him, in interviews and press conferences on matters of education policy and particularly the causes of youth unrest. Given this backdrop, as a Foreign Service probationer with less than one year under my belt, in July 1989, I naturally looked to my first posting to New Delhi, where Dr. Kalpage had just assumed duties as High Commissioner, with some trepidation. But my concerns soon dissipated, and the 20 months I was to work with him for my country, was to become todate, my richest period of learning as a diplomat.

Few diplomats anywhere in the world, would have bargained for what Dr. Kalpage had to deal with, as he strode into New Delhi as Sri Lanka's High Commissioner-designate in mid-May,1989. Even before he was to present his credentials, President Premadasa on 1st June 1989 was to propound what came to be known as the 'Battaramulla Declaration'- giving the IPKF a two month deadline by which to leave, and in effect bringing relations between Sri Lanka and India to its 'nadir' in modern times.

Given such an inheritance, it is no small credit to Dr. Kalpage's personal style and character, that by the time he moved-on to become Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative in New York, in February, 1991, he had turned around the relationship, to a position that was to become irreversible.

Given the complicated brief he had to carry, Dr. Kalpage's success in Delhi was not by accident- but by sheer hard work, coupled with a sincerity of purpose , the likes that New Delhi had not seen from the Sri Lankan side since the days of the 'bon homie' between Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

To my mind Dr. Kalpage personified what an imaginative and courageous diplomat, who had the confidence of his Head of State could do, to correct perceptions created largely due to errors in style, rather than a lack of substance.

What I admired most about him was that he never rushed into taking up positions hastily. But having analysed the factors, once convinced that a cause was right, with him there was no turning back. This was to manifest itself in many ways. As for Indo-Sri Lanka relations, despite being the representative of President Premadasa who was at the centre of a storm, Dr. Kalpage did not hesitate to nudge and push and seek to defuse tensions using his very first call on a rather 'peeved' Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in mid-July, 1989.

I also vividly recollect, sitting up in the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi as the clock ticked by, at the end of July, 1989, as Dr. Kalpage resisted to tamely succumb to President Premadasa's repeated telephonic interruptions, that we give up the effort at trying to work out a time table for the peaceful withdrawal of the IPKF and allow him to sign the proclamation ordering the IPKF troops back to barracks - which all were convinced would have had catastrophic consequences.

Dr.Kalpage with then Foreign Minister Ranjan Wijeratne and Justice Minister A.C.S.Hameed stood-up to the President, convincing him that they should not leave Delhi without a deal, as the alternative was a 'non-option'.

Not only was Dr.Kalpage's professionalism, discipline and meticulousness infectious, rarely if ever did he allow his political persuasion - which was well known- to cloud his vision. The process he used in decision making was rare by Sri Lankan standards. He never cramped one's personal style nor threw age or rank at you. In fact he revelled in healthy debate among his senior staff , whether after a public speech he made or before taking an important decision. He was a good leader, a great listener and an exceptional human being.

To me Dr. Kalpage stands particularly tall for the guts he showed, when the chips were down.

In February, 1990 in the immediate aftermath of the abduction and assassination of my friend Richard de Soyza, Varuna Karunatileke whose name was being bandied around as being wanted for questioning, landed in New Delhi seeking refuge. There were many a place I could have arranged for him to stay, but he seemed too devastated from the events of the previous weeks to go through that. So I went with him to Dr. Kalpage and having briefed the High Commissioner on developments, sought his permission to let Varuna stay in my residence which was also on the High Commission compound. Dr. Kalpage's reply was "of course, he is not a fugitive from justice, but a fugitive from terror".

Dr. Kalpage was also a caring 'family' man- not just to Mrs. Kalpage, Sanjay, Praveen and the immediate family, but to all of us who had the fortune of having worked with him and became part of what seemed to be an extended family of sorts. As years went by, though no longer my High Commissioner, to his death Dr. Kalpage continued to be a father figure in my life.

There was possibly no important personal decision I took without having a chat with him - and displaying the brilliant 'Chemist' in him, he was always able to break down the concerned issue into its particles, and come up with a synthesis, that seemed to satisfy both the micro and macro dimensions of any problem.

I shall always cherish the moments we shared and know that I had worked, above all, for an exceptional human being.

- Ravinatha Aryasinha

M.H.M. Ashraff, PC

Saturday, September 16, 2000 was a very fateful day for all of us. Regrettably, more so for me, because I not only lost my leader and mentor Muhammed Hussain Muhammed Ashraff but also my classmate A.M. Nihmathullah and my nephew S.M. Rafiudeen along with 12 others who died under mysterious circumstances in a helicopter crash.

Mr. Ashraff was never scared of death. He used to say that every additional day that he lived was a bonus granted to him by the grace of Allah, the Almighty.

I had been working with him for the last 15 years both professionally and politically. However, I cannot forget the last few days I was with him in organizing the SLMC/NUA 2000 parliamentary general election work.

The speed at which he worked as if he was getting ready for pilgrimage to Mecca, considered to be the final journey proved that he had some premonition of his untimely demise. We are yet to recover from this shock and sorrow although 100 days have gone. When Mr. Ashraff formed the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) at Kattanduki in 1980 he was not taken seriously.. Again when he declared the SLMC as a political party in 1986 in Colombo, people thought that he was committing political suicide.

Two years later the SLMC was recognised by the Commissioner of Elections and soon after contested the first Provincial Council elections outside the Northern and eastern provinces. When they secured three seats, political analysts took him seriously. However, the critics opined that the SLMC should be confined to the eastern province only.

Nevertheless, Mr. Ashraff was unruffled and unmoved by this criticism and forged ahead with his political march.

The SLMC won seventeen seats in the Northern and Eastern province election and became the main opposition party in that provincial council. The 1989 Parliamentary General election gave four seats to the SLMC for the first time. He proved that the SLMC was a deciding factor in electing the Executive President in 1988. Although the SLMC had the opportunity to join the UNP government, Mr. Ashraff opted to sit in the opposition in the 9th Parliament.

In the 1994 Parliamentary General election with 9 SLMC MPs, he helped the Peoples Alliance government to come to power after 17 years of UNP rule. By the formation of the NUA in 1998 he wanted a system of democracy without opposition. He never wanted people of this nation to be divided into two camps namely the ruling and the opposition.

He spelt out his political programme for this goal at the SLMC Annual Convention held in Colombo in 1998 attended by both President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the leader of the opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe.

It is in this background the NUA/SLMC contested the October General Elections along with the Peoples Alliance and secured 11 seats in the 11th Parliament. Unfortunately our leader is not there to see that the fruition of his dreams.

May The Allah Almighty bless our late leader and all others killed with Jennathul Firdouz and shower His choicest blessings on all Sri Lankans and to our motherland.

- M. M. Abul Kalam

Nobody at the OPD

My son was transferred to the Neurosurgical unit of the National Hospital from Durdans Private Hospital in an unconscious state with cerebral bleeding on Wednesday, November 8.

He was brought in an ambulance to the OPD at 6.45 p.m. and was kept in a male ward in a partial coma before being transferred to the Nuerosurgical ward until well past 10 p.m.!

In spite of numerous requests by us to the doctors-in-charge of the OPD ward, least interest was taken to look for the register to transfer my son to the Neurosurgical ward, let alone the missing admission clerk!

Since there was no labourer to take my son on a stretcher to the Neurosurgical Ward my relations offered to take the stretcher, but were not allowed to do so by the OPD staff.

At last a labourer walked in after 2 hours to wheel the stretcher and the patient was taken-in the rain- across Regent Street to the Neurosurgical Ward while my relations held an umbrella over my son.

It is due to the deplorable state of the government hospitals that the private hospitals thrive.

But I must admit that in the Neurosurgical ward my son was given the best attention by the dedicated surgeons, Medical Officers, Nurses and attendants and a prompt surgery save his life.

I hope the administration in the Health Department would look into the problems of the OPD and rectify the shortcomings and maintain a roster, so that patients will not be in the plight that we were in.

Ms. C. Fonseka.


English, of course is a global tongue,
But, admittedly a peculiar one.
Rats don't participate in a rat race,
But humans do it at a fast pace.
Vegetarian is one, who doesn't eat meat,
Then, what the hell does a humanitarian eat?
If the orator, is the one who makes the oration,
Then alligator, should be the one who makes allegation.
Brainchild isn't a child's brain,
'Tis a product of one's own brain.
You know the boxers play within a ring,
'Tis not rotund but a square thing.
Sugar daddy has nothing to do with sugar,
He's a lothario rich and older.
When I wind up a clock, it starts.
But when I wind up this verse, it ends.

S. G. Ratnayake

Shame on you undergrads

Peradeniya undergraduates are agitating for mitigation of the punishment meted out to those students found guilty of criminal conduct on the campus.

When they assaulted their fellow students and some lecturers they thought they were performing a heroic act. But they have now become cowards overnight and are pleading for redress!

I cannot understand how these 'brave' youngsters have lost their spine so fast.

Do they want the culprits whitewashed and released? Do they ever condone everyone in this country including the underworld thugs and the army deserters taking the law into their own hands?

Those students who have their studentship terminated should not be begging for pardon.

They should look for other avenues to show their determination to come up in life. This is not the end of the world for them. There are hundreds of students who failed to gain entry to a university and who are still doing very well in many other fields of activity.

They should take obstacles as a challenge and face up to them fruitfully and constructively. They may find a way, which is better than a university course.

E.M.G. Edirisinghe

Our Insurance: By pass the Zonal Office please

"The more you worship at this shrine, the greater the chance of getting your work done."

This saying has been common among teachers from bygone days. Here, the shrine is the education office, its deities are the members of the clerical staff and the worshippers are the teachers.

Some of the grandchildren of the old clerk of British era are still maintaining some of their antiquated qualities. Teachers are forced to undergo long delays in getting their work done.

To be fair these members of the clerical staff are not only burdened with an unbearable workload but also are working amidst a multitude of professional injustices. Shortcomings of the management, too, play a prominent role here and in the end the poor teacher is penalized.

Adding salt to the wound, these clerks have been assigned with the task of handling the insurance matters of teachers.

The insurance scheme introduced by the PA Government for the benefit of the state employees surely a boon to them, has now become a bane.

Teachers undergo many a hardship owing to snail paced activities of the zonal education office. The current procedure of receiving insurance money is a long, time consuming one.

First of all, the teacher have to get their applications recommended by the relevant principals. Then they go to the education office on the due day. The teachers are allowed to enter the zonal office only after school hours on Wednesdays and they then hand over the documents personally to the subject clerk.

Next these papers are sent to the regional insurance office for approval. Then they advise the education office, supplying the necessary funds, to pay the successful claimants. The next step is when the subject clerk sends an oral message to the claimant through a third person who knows the claimant when and if he comes across such a person.

The claimant who is lucky enough to get the message goes to the office and signs on a stamp affixed by the same on a voucher. These are done at the administration branch. It is, then, sent to the accounts section.

"When can I collect my cheque?" the teacher inquires. "You be on the look-out for days they write cheques. May be next week or may be next month," answers the clerk.

The teacher who lives or works in the neighbourhood can keep in touch with the office. But the person who resides miles away from his office has to sacrifice a number of days from his leave, just to collect a cheque for a few hundred rupees.

This long journey of papers can be shortened thereby reducing the work-load of the clerical staff. There is no need to send back the papers to the zonal offices. The Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation itself can write the cheques and post them directly to the applicant teachers, instead.

May the benevolent authorities of the SLIC and the ZEO listen to this voice of the voiceless!

H.M.P. Wickramarathne

Welcome the Millenium

Come! Come! A.C. 2001
You are welcome, the 'Third Millenium"!
Bring with the cool breeze
The scent of unity sweet!
May war and bloodshed perish!
May peace and unity flourish!
May human hearts be nourished.
With the milk of human kindness!
May war drums never be heard!
May peace drums ever be heard!
May all Sri Lankans be united
Under one Sri Lankan flag
Bereft of face, caste or, political tag!
May our 'Mother - Lanka' be 'Paradise Regained'!
May peace and unity dawn
On this dark world war-torn!
Oh! the good old days of yore
May we see a better tomorrow!

- Malini Hettige

Grama Niladharis - A law unto themselves

Reader J.M. Navaratnam's letter to the 'People's Forum' (S.T. of Dec. 17) shows how the callous indifference of some can cause unbearable worry to others. J.M.N. is extremely fortunate in earning some sort of sympathy through your column.

This sort of complaints against GNs are quite common, though many do not come out in the papers.

The Grama Niladharis do not have decent offices; normally they operate from dingy rooms in temples, abandoned buildings and even temporary sheds. Regular visitors who come mainly for favours or to get some irregular transactions done are quite familiar with this arrangement and in fact welcome it. It is the genuine visitor who suffers.

The Grama Niladari these days is given far too many responsibilities. They are so varied that it is not reasonably possible for a single person to handle them. The worst aspect of this set-up is that they wield some sort of police powers and the public are at a loss to know when or to whom to complain; whether it is the Divisional Secy. or the police itself. This is a situation that occurs frequently and the GNs obviously enjoy more immunity and privilege than their so called superiors.

What might appear to be annoying inefficiency and apathy may indeed be calculated plans for achieving other ends. They usually are; and by the time it becomes evident it is too late for the victim. My experience is a case in point.

For the past 18 months (spanning three electoral lists) I have been trying to get a new name included in the voters' list without success. There is a letter from the Grama Niladari of his former place to say that his name has been deleted at that end. My GN says that inquiries into such cases are held in June or so and that I will have to wait. In the meantime three elections have come and gone and no inquiry has been held.

When I spoke to the GN regarding this before the last general election (10th Oct.) he told me that the original GN certificate which I handed over to him is not received by him. When I showed him his acknowledgement for this he said that it must now have expired, become invalid and to get a fresh one! When I tried to explain further, his voice and demeanour became rough and I had to leave.

A few who had come there on business told me that this GN is noted for such behaviour and to complain to the Election Commissioner. Friends tell me that this will be a fruitless exercise because I will be directed to the GN in the first place always.

So I am at a dead end well and truly. Could some reader suggest a solution? The new voter's child has to be admitted to school from here in a year or two.


The plight of the coconut

The coconut tree was once called the "Kapruka", the tree that provides all your wishes. For the ordinary villager, it was not only a cash crop but also a means of food, shelter, timber and fuel. A person, who owned a meagre two acres of coconut land, could earn enough to make a hand-to-mouth living. The price of coconut always was in keeping with the prices of other goods.

So what really contributed to the downfall of the coconut industry? It began when much publicity was given to cholesterol- free vegetable oils by multi-national companies. People were indirectly made to believe that coconut oil which again was a vegetable oil, was full of cholesterol. This gigantic falsehood reduced the domestic consumption of coconut depriving the industry of a valuable local market.

To make matters worse, government began importing cheap vegetable oils, with no concern for the effect it had on the coconut industry. These oils are in no way superior to our own product. Even when local research had amply proved that coconut oil has no harmful fats, people still think it fashionable to use the imported oils.

The worst hit by this predicament are the coconut growers of the famous coconut triangle and the coastal belt. Smalltime growers are in dire difficulties while the bigger plantations are losing concerns, resulting in labour retrenchment and reduced use of fertilisers. Hundreds of factories that use coconut products as raw materials have closed down, again causing unemployment and decreased foreign exchange.

Yet there is none to see, grieve over or redress this national affliction which has caused destruction to the "Kapruka". Unless speedy action is taken, the loss to the smallholders, the industry and the economy, will certainly be irreparable.

B. Abeyratne

The real millennium

There were wild cele-brations in January this year with the misconception that the new millennium was born on 01.01.2000.

The first thousand years (A.D.) ended on 31.12.1000, and the next thousand years or the twentieth century ends on 31.12.2000. This is simple arithmetic.

So get ready to celebrate the birth of the 21st century or the third millennium on the first of January 2001.

M.Mohamed Furkhan

Anura's election

The election of Anura Bandaranaike unanimously as speaker can be compared to the election of Stanley Tillekeratne as Speaker on June 7, 1970.

His name was proposed by Mathripala Senanayake as leader of the house.

This was seconded by J. R. Jayewardene, the leader of the opposition at that time. The election was unanimous.

D.C.N. Weeratunga


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