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12th July 1998

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Tilak draws a different map

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Call to save public phones

By Ayesha R. Rafiq and Faraza Farook

Public telephones provide a valuable service, but blatant destruction by elements ranging from vandals to drug addicts has left people handicapped.

With the need for quick communication increasing state and private companies have installed more phone booths in recent years, but the trend of vandalism has also increased.

The Fort Railway Station has 10 payphones within and eight outside. Of the eight outside only one is in working condition, and three of the 10 inside are out of service. But train travellers have problems even with the phones that work. "When the cash tills of the coin phones are filled, the authorities don't remove the coins until the next day, and therefore we can rarely use many of the coin phones inside," a regular commuter complained.

A common feature of this vandalism is the handsets being torn off, leaving the cords frayed and hanging. Fort Railway Station Superintendent K. N. Wijesinghe suspects that the microphones from the handsets are removed by drug addicts and sold for a mere sum of 15-20 rupees. "People are so poor that they even remove the taps from the station bathrooms, so how can you expect them to protect the phones," he asked.

There are about 200,000 daily commuters, and the coin phones fill up very soon, and once full they cannot be used until the next day when the cash tills are emptied. "I've seen a lot of boys and girls who use the phone for a long time, and as there are few phones that work, this is a problem for us," complained one commuter.

The phones are imported from Japan and are expensive. Sri Lanka Telecom is now trying to locally turn out cash tills that can be sealed, because otherwise people often break them open to take the money. A number of Sri Lanka Telecom phones are locked because they are damaged. "S.L.T. does not pay us any lease or commission," Mr. Wijesinghe said, "as such the phones are the sole responsibility of S.L.T. Even the keys to the padlocked boxes are with S.L.T. and we have to call the company workers to come and clear out the cash tills," he said.

A general complaint among the commuters was that when they have to go to communication centres outside the station to take urgent calls, they miss their train. They say complaints to the Superintendent have fallen on deaf ears, but Mr. Wijesinghe says this is because the station is not responsible for the phones. Sometimes people borrow cellular phones from some commuters and take their urgent calls.

Klaus Scholz, Managing Director of Payphone Company which handles Supercard, said they did not face as grave a problem as other companies, did. Because their phones were situated in areas where there were few land lines, and as such they were valued more by the people in the vicinity. A phone costs around Rs. 60,000 to install.

He also said as their phones were in good working condition, people did not kick them to make them work like they did to other phones, and as such the risk of damage was reduced. However, Sales Manager, Mr. Dasanayake said, some of their phones had been damaged. One phone in Siebel Avenue had been completely removed two months ago, and in about six months 15 hand sets were damaged.

Errol Perera, Executive Director of Lanka Payphone Company said this was a problem they had been facing since inception. The annual loss through vandalism was Rs. 6-7 million. Regarding fraud such as wire-tapping, he said continuous representations to S.L.T. which provided the lines had gone unnoticed. He said, they did not waste their time making entries to the police or any other relevant authorities any more as nothing ever happened. But since N.T.T. took over telecom, steps had been taken by them to remedy the situation.

They had tried offering incentives to the shopkeepers whose shops the phones were located near, to look after the phones and report any damage, but once the shops closed for the day they could not do anything about it.

At one stage, he said, acid was being injected into the card trays so that when the card got burnt and when it came out the customers' fingers got burnt. The vandalism takes place mainly in the suburban areas. At any one time 10-15% of the phones will be out of working order, he says.

Even though various methods to protect the phones are being tried out by the companies, the problem is still largely unsolved.

S.L.T. Customer Service Chief Christy Alwis said, telephone booths at Fort were locked because they were being damaged. He said, they were hoping to get a caretaker soon.


Kadir sets stage for South Asian summit

Foreign Minister Laksh-man Kadirgamar has completed his round of visits to the SAARC capitals to present to each head of government the formal invitation to participate in the 10th SAARC Summit in Colombo from July 29-31.

Earlier, the Minister had visited Bangladesh, India and Nepal and the Deputy Foreign Minister Bhutan, a release from the Ministry said.

In Pakistan, Mr. Kadirgamar had discussions with Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on various issues related to SAARC and international affairs.

The Pakistani Prime Minister expressed his keen desire to help to make the Colombo SAARC Summit an outstanding success.

Mr. Kadirgamar also delivered the inaugural lecture in a new series dealing with Pakistan's Golden Jubilee year to commemorate the founder of Pakistan Quadi Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah. It was Mr. Sharif himself who had arranged to deliver this inaugural lecture. The title of the lecture was Mohammed Ali Jinnah: The man and legend. It was delivered to a large audience at the institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad last Monday.

The Foreign Minister also called on President Zardar of Pakistan and invited him, on behalf of President Kumaratunga, to pay a state visit to Sri Lanka.

In the Maldives, Mr. Kadirgamar called on President Gayoom, the present Chairman of SAARC and presented him with a formal invitation for the Colombo Summit and also discussed matters concerning the Conference the release added.


Help the visually handicapped

The Sri Lanka Federation for the Visually Handicapped has made a public appeal on behalf 33-year-old Saman Karunasiri, an A/level qualified blind youth who has been trained in operating a modern telephone exchange.

Saman whose wife Swarnamala is also blind but holds a BA degree and is a school teacher, completed his training assignment with the federation under a Social Services Ministry programme and is now seeking employment as a telephone operator or in a related capacity.

Any one who wishes to help is requested to contact the federation at 74, Church Street, Colombo 2 or on telephone 437768.

His wife who is following a postgraduate course at the University of Colombo needs a Braille typewriter and cassette recorder to take down notes.

The couple say they would deeply appreciate any help.


Minister dismisses GMOA's 'part missing' charge

The Health Minister and the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) are trading charges again this time over the shifting of an X-ray machine to the Welisara chest hospital.

GMOA president Dr. Ananda Samarasekera claimed that an important part of the X-ray machine that was shifted on June 29 from the Colombo chest clinic to Welisara, had gone missing, blaming the authorities for the haphazard way in moving expensive and sensitive equipment.

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, refuting the allegations said the GMOA complaint was baseless. "Senior Health Ministry officials and technicians who were sent to check the machine have reported that no part was missing," the minister said.


Some will perish but most will get away

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

Some limbless sea animals will perish off the coast of Colombo in the aftermath of the recent oil spill, a top ecologist has warned.

"A thick crude oil coating on a variety of species lying on the coral reef at the sea bottom will suffocate these animals," National Aquatic and Resources Agency Director General S. D. Jayakody said.

He said, NARA had done a detailed study on marine life in the seas off Colombo, following the biggest ever oil spill.

"Our studies reveal that sea animals whose movements are sluggish will die. Most fish have survived the crisis due to their brisk movement in the waters, while aqua plants have become clearer after they were seen to be black soon after the spill.

"Species such as molluscs (without limbs and in a shell) will suffer the most while lobsters and crabs which are relatively faster will survive", Mr. Jayakody said.

He said, it was fortunate that the beach area between Galle Face and Wellawatte did not contain live coral reef.

"But in time to come we might see the formation of tar balls which will pollute the beaches," he said.


RMV's licence to stink

Though the department for the Registration of Motor Vehicles (RMV) is known as the top revenue earner for the state, it is now also gaining a dubious reputation for having the most stinking toilets in town.

Thousands of people turn up at the RMV office daily to register vehicles, for driving or written tests or other official work.

The four toilets for these thousands of visitors and the staff have no doors.

They are all removed and kept on the side of each toilet.

It seems the place has not been washed for ages and the stink is nauseating. But who cares? They only want to earn money. What's more, these foul and disease-causing toilets are situated beside the canteen kitchen.

Municipal Health officers who carry out widely-publicised raids on small city eating houses might well visit the RMV's office not to use the toilets but to see the sordid situation.


Cash boost to ease film clog in 5th circuit

By Kumaradasa Wagista.

National Film Corporation (NFC) has decided to ease the congestion of films in the fifth circuit by providing incentives to producers to release them in other circuits, NFC sources said.

Producers who agree will receive 5 % extra as their share. Presently the producer's share is 45 %. The exhibitor gets 45% and NFC charges 10% as handling charges of the total collection of a film.

"For the growth of the local film industry and to encourage producers to finance quality films NFC will bear this loss," NFC sources said.

This decision was taken by Presidential Secretary K.Balapatabendi who was appointed by the President to sit with the chairman and directors of NFC and decide ways of easing the queue of films in the fifth circuit.

It was also decided to increase the Rs 75,000/- loan given by NFC to subtitle films to Rs 150,000.

According to a decision made by a former NFC Chairman ,a local film participating in the competitive section of a recognised international film festival will be allowed to be released in the fifth circuit out of queue.

Film director Gamini Fonseka' s ' Anthima Reya ' produced by Malani Fonseka which recently participated in the competitive section at the Washington International film festival is preparing to release it in the fourth circuit although it is a fifth circuit release film."We will take advantage of this facility which is a blessing," she said.


COPE and Reggie not coping well

By Chamintha Thilakaratna

Members of the Committee On Public Enterprises (COPE) are to protest to the Speaker, K.B. Ratnayake, if COPE Chairman, Reggie Ranatunga, fails to bring Ports Ministry officials for questioning.

"Mr. Ranatunga cannot refuse to order SLPA officials to appear before the COPE for further questioning and clarification on the draft agreement for the privatization of the QEQ. We will take the matter to the Speaker and raise it in Parliament, COPE member, John Amaratunga said.

But Mr. Ranatunga who is also Deputy Minister of Ports Development said, he was not there to do peon's work for other COPE members and in any event he objected to any harassment of officials.

But Mr. Amaratunga said that as much as the Cabinet had the authority to approve agreements, COPE had the authority to look into the pros and cons of such deals.

By turning down a request by COPE, the Minister will not only be violating the work rules of the Committee but also be hindering moves to ensure the welfare of the public", he said.

Member Ravi Karunanayake said, they would take up the matter at the COPE meeting this week. "A failure by Mr. Ranatunga to co-operate in the work of COPE will lead to further measures", he said.

However, Mr. Ranatunga is equally disturbed by the request and the conduct of members. He told The Sunday Times he was not prepared to call in officials from ministries as and when COPE members felt like doing it.

"I'm working according to the standing orders and therefore I cannot bring in officials like that. I am not their peon. A formal request must be made and the officials listed. The members do not wish to say what they want to ask or give any other details, without which I am in no position to get the officials to appear before COPE", he said.

He said, COPE members had not made a written request. Furthermore he had already summoned Port officials for discussions and he was not willing to harass them again on the same matter, Mr. Ranatunga said. All accusations were denied by COPE members.

Meanwhile, Ports and shipping Minister M. H. M. Ashraff said the agreement with the Australian P&O company for privatization of the Queen Elizabeth quay would be submitted to the cabinet within a month despite continuing protests from port trade unions and political parties

"The drafts have been finalized, and Insha Allah (God willing) we hope to present the agreement for cabinet approval in a month, if things go well," Mr. .Ashraff told The Sunday Times.

He said SLPA officials who held talks with the P&O consortium had not yet given him full details but he was convinced everything would be done in the best interest of the port.

As for the delay in finalising the deal, he said, "well when we hurry it people make a big fuss. When we don't, they still make a fuss."

The Sunday Times learns that the Attorney General is now examining the agreement before it is presented to the cabinet.

Commenting on COPE involvement in the matter, the minister said, "COPE has no business in this.

It is not within COPE's purview."

As the deal was being finalised, trade unions and political parties were standing strong on their demand that the proposed deal would be a sellout of national assets.

CMU General Secretary Bala Tampoe who is leading the protest campaign warned that if the government ignored widespread protest and went ahead with the deal, the unions would make it difficult for the new owners to run the port.


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