News/Comment

3rd February 2002

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Tiger comfort in deep jungle

By Athula Bandara
This 3-star luxury guest house in war ravaged Wanni, was a soothing sight for journalists who visited the area recently.

The  reception areaThe  reception area

Run by the LTTE and popularly referred to as a hotel, the guest house boasts of four air conditioned rooms, a reception area with carpeted floors, and a lounge with mirrors, a piano, and teak paved walls adorned by a portrait of Velupillai Prabhakaran.

This hide-away guest house located in Mallawi on about two acres, is well concealed even from an aerial view as it is surrounded by thick foliage and its asbestos roof has a thatched covering which blends with other thatched roof hamlets in the area. In this poverty stricken area where residents have little or no facilities, a generator supplies electricity to the guest house.

The location serves as the LTTE's headquarters for local and foreign visitors and it was here that Norway's peace envoy Eric Solheim had met Prabhakaran last year.

The gates to the guest house fortified by a wall of barrels, remain closed and those who work there have to use a different exit.

The architect of this guest house-complete with a car park and an auditorium for about 50 people - is reportedly the secretary of the LTTE's political wing leader Thamil Selvam.

A young LTTE cadre manages this jungle guest-house where uniformed cadres work as waiters. A large map of Sri Lanka with Eelam boundaries marked on it, adorns the entrance.



Power crisis further confounded

Blow to Karu: Italian job undone

By Shelani Perera
Promises or plans to ease the power cuts by the end of this month ran into a major setback with an Italian company responsible for repair work on the Kelanitissa Fiat Gas Turbine delaying the repair work.

As the average water storage level in the hydropower reservoirs dropped further despite rain in some catchment areas, Italian engineers are reported to have informed the CEB that they cannot resume repair work until March. The engineers had left for a short vacation during the Christmas season and were due back last months but the delay by at least three month is believed to be linked to a dispute over repair costs.

The Kelanitissa Deputy General Manager, Shavi Fernando, said it was unlikely the gas turbine which was expected to provide upto 10 percent of the country's daily requirement would be in operation by the end of this month as promised. 

Renewing operations of the gas turbine was cited as one of the short term projects in the 180-day programme by the new Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya.

The minister has vowed he would quit if he could not solve the power crisis within 180 days.

According to CEB engineers, the gas turbine which was installed in 1997 has never functioned to its full capacity. Now it lies dismantled, with the Italian job undone.


Mail going down the drain

Shortage of staff, mismanagement, lack of facilities crippling postal service

By Nilika de Silva and Tania Fernando 
While Postal Department workers demand long delayed promotions and the filling of more than 4,000 vacancies, the public suffer at the hands of an archaic and inefficient service. Even today a letter delivered from a distant province will have to travel to Colombo before it can be distributed to the adjoining village. 

All units of the Postal Department suffer from a 15% shortage of staff with only 22,700 employees to handle the postal needs of a population of 18 million. The shortage includes a short-fall of six Deputy Post Master's General. There is also a need for 7,278 postmen, but there are only 5,883. 

The Mt Lavinia Post Office and Kollupitiya Post Office which are of Supra grade are also suffering due to acute staff shortages. There are 48 Supra post offices in Sri Lanka of which only 20 have Post Masters.

At Mt Lavinia there is no Chief Post Master and of the 23 cadre positions, only 14 are filled. The posts of three supervising staff officers are also vacant. Kollupitiya where a lot of mail passes through has only seven staffers, while the requirement is 22.

Sources at the Postal Department claim that another reason for the shortfall of staff is the delayed promotions since 1994. Prior to the Parliamentary Elections in October 2000, 333 promotions took place in August that year.

Promotions are normally given on a yearly basis, and the failure to give promotions is being seen as a weakness in the PMG's office. The staff further stated that recruitment of new cadres could be done at no extra cost because large sums are being squandered on over time payments.

Post Master General (PMG), W.M. Piyasena told The Sunday Times that this shortage in cadres was due to the earlier plans to turn the Department into a Corporation. "For five to six years we had this problem of cadre shortage, because no recruitments were taking place and no promotions were being given, and this posed a major obstacle to work," he said. 

The Union of Posts and Telecommunications Officers (UPTO) in a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Mass Communications this week requested a meeting to discuss the massive shortage in staff, but so far they have received no response to this and other communications to Minister Imtiyaz Bakeer Markar. 

Meanwhile acute shortage of stamped envelopes, postcards and stamps in small denominations exists and workers complain that the Department is losing even the 0.25 cents it could have earned by selling a post card.

The PMG however stated that 164 mn stamps ranging from Rs. 2 to 20 had been printed following tender procedure and were available for purchase. He agreed that there was a shortage in stamped envelopes, but said this was due to a 1 1/2 month delay in awarding the tender. People who could not obtain the tender and caused a problem were responsible for this delay, he said. He said the minister had called for an investigation regarding allegations of tender violations. 

The Sunday Times learns there are further allegations that uniform material has not been provided for the past four years, though the department is receiving an allocation of more than Rs. 16 million. In the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, the postal workers have been deprived of this uniform material for more than ten years, workers complained. 

Sources at the Department said the Khaki coloured uniforms which were previously used had been stopped for security reasons. In 1999 25,000 Mt. of blue material had been purchased for uniforms, however todate no uniforms have been given.Workers also ask why material is being imported from China without using local suppliers.

However, the PMG assured that under the 100 day program of the new government this and other matters would be sorted out with 95 percent of those eligible receiving three sets of uniforms. The new uniforms will be ash-blue and accompanied with a peak cap. 

While delays in letters are often blamed on the postman, the public is unaware of the hardships endeared by department workers. With shortages right down to the basic necessities like seal for the mail collection bag, staffers are forced to improvise by using arrack bottle tops for this purpose.

The bicycle used by the postman is his own, and he is paid a measly Rs. 100 per month for maintenance. The areas covered by the postman have also extended with many houses coming up in newly developed areas. This accounts for mail going missing and being dumped as was recently reported. However, it was clear that while the worker was suffering making ends meet, someone was cashing in on the allocation made for the hiring of vehicles.

The shortage of vehicles has resulted in the department hiring about 24 vehicles at Rs. 1250 a day, while the middleman pays only Rs. 750 to the owner. Sources say that these vehicles run less than 30 km a day.

While administration cuts corners by withholding many essentials for the smooth running of the department, massive sums are being spent due to bad management of resources. 

The building which housed the GPO since around the 1800's, was taken over by the President's security in 2000. However, now the department has to pay a rent of Rs. 114, 416.12 a month for the GPO which has moved to Bristol Street and is housed at the MICH Building, where it lacks even a fax machine.

Vast sums are spent on renting out premises for sub post offices and for renovation of post offices, however, there is little to show the public that there is an improvement in the service.

The Nuwara Eliya Post Office renovated at a cost of Rs. 12.5 million, has no lights in the rest rooms. Although many gates have been put in quite unnecessarily, sources said essentials such as the lunch room had been shut down.. 

While this ancient building which is more than a 125 years old, has lost its teak counters and brass pipings, department staff lamented that each time a post office is renovated the valuable wooden parts simply vanish. 


Castle Hospital rewarded for service delivery

For the first time in Sri Lanka, a state hospital the Castle Street Hospital for Women won a national award for exemplary services.

Castle Street Hospital Director Wimal Karandagoda said the two awards they won at the National Productivity Awards 2001 in the service sector were a recognition for the hospital's commitment to the patients' health and team work.

He said that if other hospitals too followed the 'patient first' concept the Castle Street Hospital had adopted, they too could win awards.

"We should adopt scientific approaches for management. We should adopt the 'patients first' concept like companies take the 'customer first' concept," Dr. Karandagoda said..

The hospital also won the Taiki Akimotot Award for the best 5s implementation in the service sector. The 5s include clearing, sorting, cleaning, standardizing and training and self discipline. 

Dr. Karandagoda said the hospital was hoping to win more awards by maintaining a good environment and improving services in areas of patient needs and monitoring mechanisms.

He said that hospital staff were given training at workshops conducted with the help of the Health Ministry, the World Health Organisation and the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration.


Container hijack probe goes on reverse gear

By Sunil Jayatillake
Supporters of a UNP parliamentarian from Katana are alleged to have detained a container carrying 'cut pieces' from a Katunayake garment factory and demanded Rs. 500,000 from a businessman to release it.

But when the matter went to the police, investigations turned towards how the businessman got the cut cloth pieces instead of the illegal detention of the container.

The gang had told police the cut pieces were being illegally removed from a BOI factory but the businessman claimed that he had obtained them after paying Rs. 1.6 million to the company, Rs. 150,000 to the customs and Rs. 94,000 to the BOI.

When The Sunday Times spoke to the Seeduwa police they refused to comment. But when pressed for a comment on why they were not taking action against the UNP supporters, the investigators said they should have tipped off the police instead of illegally detaining the container.


Nobel Peace Laureate to visit SL

Leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party of Northern Ireland, Mr. John Hume will be visiting Sri Lanka this week at the invitation of INPACT (Initiative for Political and Conflict Transformation).

Mr. Hume won the Nobel Peace prize in 1998 and a recipient of the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Award this year. During his stay he will address a group of invitees on Tuesday, 5 February at the Trans Asia Hotel at 6 p.m.



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