Devolution is not the answer to the country’s problems Sri Lanka is too small a country to be divided into autonomous units on ethnic grounds.  From time immemorial, a sizeable fraction of the Tamil-speaking Sri Lankan population has been living outside the North and the East. According to the latest census, this position has not [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Letters to the Editor


Devolution is not the answer to the country’s problems

Sri Lanka is too small a country to be divided into autonomous units on ethnic grounds.  From time immemorial, a sizeable fraction of the Tamil-speaking Sri Lankan population has been living outside the North and the East. According to the latest census, this position has not changed. The problems the average Sri Lankan citizen faces from Point Pedro to Devundara are common to all. Power devolution to whatever regional units will not alleviate the people’s suffering.

Every square inch of the country belongs to all of its citizens, regardless of parochial considerations of all kinds – caste, creed, race. Every citizen should feel free to live and move to any part of the country. If this is ensured, there is no need to segregate groups into isolated habitats.

However, the cultural identity of the different communities should be acknowledged and respected. Up to three decades ago, we experienced inter- communal amity to a high degree, until extremist politicians on both sides disrupted the harmony. Since the end of the civil war, people throughout the country enjoy the freedom to engage in their religious and cultural activities unhindered.

The way the Sinhala-only legislation was introduced during the regime of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike irked the Tamil-speaking people. True, the colonial rulers’ divide-and-rule policy left behind a legacy of economic imbalance between the majority community and the minorities. Tamils enjoyed the lion’s share in terms of employment, in the public service sector in particular. The remedy was unpalatable to the Tamil brethren, in that they lost the privileged position they enjoyed during the colonial period. However, the Tamil language has since been accorded official language status.

The inhabitants of the North-East have justifiable grievances regarding the slow progress of rehabilitation work. This demands prompt corrective action. The Government, on the other hand, has given priority to development programmes in the former war-torn areas in the North and East. Resettling the displaced persons is almost complete.

The existing Provincial Councils do not fulfill the anticipated objectives. They are white elephants and a colossal waste of public money. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, under which the Provincial Councils were set up, did not have the concurrence of the electorate at a referendum. The Provincial Councils can easily be replaced with administrative units (with geographical boundaries, say a district), with elected representatives.

The need for devolution of powers does not arise. Land and police powers, the subjects of education and health presently mishandled by the Provincial Councils, can revert to the centre.

All ethnic groups living in Sri Lanka can claim a fair share in the country’s administration in a single legislative assembly covering the entire country. A national government is the need of the hour. This may seem an Utopian ideal. Yet there is no alternative if Sri Lanka is to be a unitary state.

J. Abeygunawardhana, Ex-Sri Lanka Administrative Service

Dye and die: Regulate hair-colouring products

Many Sri Lankans use hair dye. However, unlike in rich western countries, their choices are limited by economic considerations.

Many hair colouring products include peroxides, ammonia and carcinogenic colouring matter. Marketers are probably aware of the health hazards caused by these chemicals when absorbed into the body through the skin. Prolonged use of hair dye can even cause cancer. But the sellers of dubious products are worried more about their profit than the health of the people.

Natural dyes like henna have been used for thousands of years in oriental and Middle Eastern countries. As the natural colour of henna can only be a reddish brown at most, another dye made from indigo, a deeply blue pigment is usually added to obtain the required darkness. Although not entirely hazard-free, their impact is presumably far less than the manufactured chemicals.

Most cancers seem to be due to lifestyle choices and ignorance rather than inherited.  Health and allied regulatory authorities must regulate the marketing of hazardous hair dyes and impose severe penalties on those who contravene compliance. Public awareness campaigns should be carried out through the mass media.

Lasantha Pethiyagoda, Australia

Divineguma: Regressing to a bygone era?

Open letter to Minister Basil Rajapaksa

Dear Minister,

I must say, I am impressed by your single minded evangelical zeal, regarding ‘Divineguma’. However, I was somewhat perturbed when you mentioned your intention of developing ‘household economic units’.
Do you yearn to return to the pristine glory of the Dutugemunu era, with its tank-orientated economy where the villager was content to cultivate a plot of paddy, own a jak tree, and a couple of cattle?

With the vast funds at your disposal, is this not akin to ‘A mountain labouring to bring forth a mouse’?
The goal should be transformation, not perpetuation.

President Premadasa got it right, a quarter of a century ago, when he decided to diversify the economy at the rural level. He did this, with the Gam Udawa concept, and by bringing the garment factory to rural areas.

At that time, even the mobile phone was unheard of.

During the intervening period, technology has developed at a dizzying pace. The rural youth must be given access to these developments. In India, they have extended outsourcing to remote areas.

There was a much publicised event recently, I think it was promoted under the Divineguma concept, where plants were distributed– one per person, a chillie plant here and a coconut sapling there, does this masquerade as agricultural development?

We in this island, which is fast becoming an ‘Alice-in-wonderland’ land — including, ‘off with her head, said the Queen! — seem to be losing touch with reality, so you can be forgiven your somewhat muddled thinking.
I doubt whether anyone wants to regress to a bygone era.


Parking fees  unreasonable

I am a tax-paying citizen. Last Monday morning I parked my vehicle in Ward Place to go to the National Saving Bank. I came back after five minutes, but the traffic warden charged me Rs 30.

I then proceeded towards Borella Cross Road to buy a tin of paint from a hardware store. When I returned, I was charged another Rs 30 for parking for a few minutes.

Three-wheeler taxis have monopolised the end of this road though it is not a taxi stand. They prevent vehicle owners from parking. A Pajero was not charged Rs 30. When I questioned the attendant, he said he was a judicial officer. But was he on judicial business?

Mr. Mayor, let us park our vehicles at least at the Borella Cross Road, which have not come under parking attendants all these years.

Tudor Wickremasinghe, Colombo 9

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