The Sunday Times on the Web Letters to the Editor

17th January 1999


People simply don't care 

"There is an emptiness, too, where once the mountains of my country, the rivers and streams, the trees and birds have been. And often, it is that emptiness which connect you to me." from When Memory Dies by S. Sivanandan, winner of the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for the best first published book Eurasia 1998.

This would exactly be the thoughts of the villagers of Eppawela, and that very real threat of emptiness is what has touched so many to take up their cause. The villagers will curse the Gods that gave them phosphate-rich soil under their feet. They will curse the politicians too who sold a non-renewable resource for a pittance, when it should have been considered a prized possession and used frugally. They will resist with all their might when the bulldozers come to evict them and banish them to a hostile, inhospitable, distant area to a land unwanted by all other settlers. 

So what is all this about? To most of the media and the Colombo 7 elite, it is simply a hole to be dug in Eppawela, or a hill to be decapitated. To exile, no less, and re-locate a whole traditional village cannot, after all, mean anything to those who think nothing of shifting residence in search of a better toilet. Villagers are poor people, even stupid by their reckoning, meant merely to supply food to satisfy the voracious appetites of the city-wallahs. To the politicians, as to the foreign investor, Eppawela is an unbelievably rich source of money; to the LTTE, a valuable source of kappam; to the professionals with even a basic knowledge of mining, it is, as the Dharmabandu Report notes, "... a glaringly visible fact... that the ministry is committing a blunder of colossal scale in not doing enough homework, in terms of studying alternative courses of action before carrying on with a faulty plan from the previous regime." So, finally, this lackadaisical attitude of the Sri Lankan bureaucracy to the vast potential of Eppawela, is truly a godsend to the ruthless multinational predator. The comments of the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United Nations, Warnasena Rasaputra, best symbolizes the lackadaisical, uncaring, even cynical attitude of the bureaucracy: "I wouldn't worry about the protests. There are people who protest against mines in every country. The Board of Investment has already carried out studies and we only have to finalise the conditions for the investment," he told IPS in Washington.

Even a cursory glance at the Agreement will reveal the magnitude of what we are letting ourselves in for. As is usual with all contracts involving U.S. multinationals, the 'Claims' packages providing for default or breach of its provisions often far exceed the built-in profit margins encased in the contracts. The Freeport McMoran Agreement on Eppawela is no different and includes an equally crippling 'claims' package. 

The Freeport McMoran deal provides for the rock phosphate mined in Eppawela to be processed in Trincomalee. 750 acres of land adjoining Trincomalee's Clappenburg Bay have been earmarked for this purpose. Phosphogypsum is one of the highly toxic by-products of phosphate processing - "...for every pound of phosphate produced for the fertilizer stack, five pounds of gypsum are produced for the waste stack..." (Biosphere, Vol. 14 No. I, March 1998, p.4). This huge mountain of radioactive waste, a proven carcinogenic, or cancer-inducing agent will be dumped in Trincomalee Bay, affecting marine ecosystems and rendering inedible - indeed highly dangerous - all the fish population in the sea round the whole island.

The Ceylon Mercantile Union, which is openly opposed to the Eppawela joint venture project with the multinational Freeport McMoran, has this to say: "About 11,780 innocent farmers who live in the villages of Eppawela, Konwewa, Kandegama, Kadurugaswewa, Eliyadivulwewa, Amunukele, Thalawewa, Kiralegama, Sandaresgama, Katugahagana, Dikwewa, Kaduruwewa, Kiriwelihinna, Aliyawetunawewa, Rotawewa, Kudagama, Palugaswewa and Katugahagama are going to be the victims of this destructive fate (these people will be rendered homeless and destitute due to the loss of their homes, land and traditional means of livelihood). Accordingly, 28 villages, 2,602 houses, one National school, one Mahavidyalaya, four schools, one Pirivena, five Viharas, two Churches, one Nursery, six Government buildings, 12 Community halls and six Co-operative buildings as well as the towns of Eppawela and Talawa are to be swallowed up by this destructive project. 

Whatever happened, I wonder, to the idea that in a democratically elected Parliament each member is required to mirror the views of the People who make up his 'constituency' - in other words, that an MP represents the collective voice of his voters? Most MPs have a tendency to remember that only when the next election is round the corner, and most people seem to forget that the vote is a most potent weapon; to those readers who feel strongly about the prudent use of the national treasure that is Eppawela, thus ensuring that it is passed on to our children and our children's children, I say: contact your MP and make sure he knows your views. Make him speak up for you in Parliament, or else...

Janaka Dharmabandu, a highly qualified mining engineer, notes: "We are about to sign an agreement that, in its extent of deceit, is second only to the agreement that King Dharma Parakramabahu of Kotte signed with the Portuguese, allowing them to have a piece of land the size of a cattle-skin, which they said was to make a box inside. A box they did make."

Nihal Fernando
Colombo 5.

What we need is quick punishment

Rape, murder, disappearances are still part of our daily life. Despite 2500 years of civilization, have we really progressed in the direction of Human Rights? Has any Government really given us the right to live, free from torture, with freedom of speech? True, one step forward has been made with the appointment of Commissions of Inquiry, but two steps have been taken backwards with the failure to enforce the law. Commissions of Inquiry are excellent tools for politicians to expose the misdeeds of their predecessors. The public do not need this information, we are aware of it; what we want is swift punishment for offenders of Human Rights.

The legal system in this country is not geared to deal with the present rising tide of criminal acitivity. It is sad, but true, that some criminal elements receive political patronage. Tribunals empowered to inquire, try, and hand out deterrent punishment without delay may be the answer. A Human Rights Task Force must have the necessary muscle not only to investigate, but also to ensure that, prompt action is taken to bring offenders to trial. Apart from the case of missing students of Embilipitiya and the school girl Krishanthi and mother who were raped and murdered, what has it achieved? 

The investigation into the mass graves at Chemmani in the North had to be delayed till the monsoon rains washed away the evidence. It is wishful thinking to expect a police, or military inquiry not to be biased, when one of their own ranks is the accused. Do the current Task Force visit the camps in the North and East to check on persons taken into custody? More important do they follow it up, or merely record it as a disappearance in their files? A Task Force sitting in the safety of Colombo, collecting statistics of missing persons is a waste of public money

We have an ongoing war in this country; there are no observers in the area of conflict. Our Foreign Minister, himself foreign to the North and East, repeatedly states this is an internal affair, no outside comments or mediation is welcome. We have only the version of the Army spokesman to present their view. 

Murder in custody, torture, and rape are a few items of news that filter through the screen of regulations governing the press. Rape in this country is fair game. Arrests are made, but the culprits are often released on the orders of our political overlords. Punishment never fits the crime. The Ministry of Justice is strangely slow to propose deterent punishment for rape. The spectre of Crow Island has not activated them. It might be worth taking a cue from the law in the Middle East to make this a safe country for women. We need a character like "The Lord High Executioner" in the operetta the Mikado

The day true democracy dawns in this country will be a greater event, even in history, than the advent of the next millennium.

ATS Paul
Colombo 4.

It's cruel and it's alarming

I write in response to the query by Sharni Jayawardena in The Sunday Times of December 20,1998 titled 'Is there no other humane solution?' It was most disheartening to witness the capture of a defenceless dog along Bauddhaloka Mawatha by the authorities of the Municipal Dog Pound, on the afternoon of December 24. The method of capture was cruel and alarming - a chain being employed to haul and fling the startled victim inside the vehicle to join another seemingly dispirited individual, if not more.

Although it may be easier said than done, it is imperative that alternate measures are taken prior to the trauma of capture, and it is only humane that a straying animal is observed for harmful signs of behaviour prior to capture - senseless elimination being inhuman in itself. Needless to say, any animal deserves the right to life.

Sudarshani Fernando,
Colombo 5.

It is high time for a change

A five member Local Government Commission was appointed by the government some time ago to probe into shortcomings in the present system of local government and to recommend remedial measures to suit the public.

It was most welcomed by the public, rate payers etc. and they submitted several proposals to the Commission. Now almost ten months have lapsed and the public wish to know what has happened to the said Commission, as this is a burning question.

It is the local bodies that cater to the basic needs of the people at grass root level. It is the duty of the government to provide a better system of local govt. in keeping with the fast changes in towns. The late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike as the Minister of Local Govt, in the first Cabinet, introduced village councils, town councils, urban councils and municipal councils and allowed the people to manage the affairs of their villages and towns. On the other side this system produced efficient, dedicated, honest and good politicians and social workers. In 1988 the Pradeshya Sabha system was introduced, engulfed with many Town Councils and Village Councils in every Divisional Secretary's division. Thereby areas became large, problems of towns and villages were combined and resulted like Malay pickle. The system of election and P.R. system made no representation for certain areas as there is no ward system.

It is high time the authorities introduced changes in the present system. Suffering residents, specially rate payers in former town council areas of Aluthgama and Dharga Town request the authorities to provide Urban Council status as they are undergoing hardships under the present set up.

Rate Payers Association
Dharga Town

Respect that siren

The letter headlined "Ugly act of an officer" in The Sunday Times of December 27, 1998 reminds me of many vehicles not keeping to the correct side of the road, even if an ambulance comes screaming along.

I have seen several vehicles failing to respond till the ambulance is just close behind. 

Is there no feeling for fellow beings? I have always wondered whether an immediate sock in the jaw is the only remedy for those who hug the road when an ambulance is screaming behind.

In Britain I have seen vehicles coming to a halt on the curb no sooner the ambulance siren is heard. 

'Anti road hog'

Fast track to liberalisation or destruction?

Readers of Dr. J.B. Kelegama's letter under the heading " Fast Track Trade Liberalisation with India" will no doubt realise the implications and will wonder about the fast track and how this could be a one way track for the local industrialists and farmers.

The SMRC trade liberalisation and its pluses and minuses have been very clearly explained by Dr.Kelegama.

In this modern world, markets are more important than principles and values.

Be that as it may, have the experts who have been extolling the virtues of SAFTA and SMRC and the Fast Track given serious thought to the actual working of the proposed and agreed two way trade? Will there be two way trade?

We produce and/or manufacture all that is done in India! Except for agricultural products like tea, rubber, coconut and the traditional items and our graphite, mica, gems, the other items like potatoes, onions, rice etc; we are heavily dependent on imported fertiliser and this sends up the price. In India the cost of production is much less and is in the region of one fourth of our cost in some cases.

Thank God, India consumes almost all the tea they produce! If not where will "Ceylon Tea" be?

If the Free Fast Track import of agricultural produce is implemented, i.e. they are not in our "negative list" about 50,000 farmer families have to be treated as refugees and put on the dole!

Let us look at the Garment Trade. Are we second to anybody in this region on quality, productivity and technology? Middle Eastern countries and Bangladesh consider Sri Lanka to be leading in garment production and recruit Sri Lankans from Asst. Production Managers upward. 

Foreign buyers consider it is worth paying a premium to get their orders manufactured here!

Garment Exporters Associations who lobbied to get the import duty on fabric zero rated from 35% would have had case to do so! Yes, we do not have a good raw material (Textile Fabric) base in order to successfully face the challenges of quota free trade in the near future, where quick turnaround period, small minimum order quantities are going to be the name of the game. 

Very large percentage of inputs of the garments exported by us are imported. Is this the case with India?

They are self-sufficient as far as all the necessary raw material inputs are concerned. On top of this, the lndian garment exporter enjoys 17% rebate on its exports.

Another expressed aim of the Associations of the Apparel Exporters in canvassing for zero rating of duty on textile imports, is to make Sri Lanka a Centre for made-up garments like Indonesia and Bangkok is today, and draw the buyers from Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa, Middle East (and why not India!) to Colombo! Currently they are shopping in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Indonesia, Philippines and China.

This is perfect logic. This will bring indirect benefits to the country by boosting the flagging tourist industry and also rejuvenating the cottage industries.

But what did the Government do? Instead of limiting the lowering of tariff to the import of textile fabric, they reduced the import duty of ready-made garments from 35% to 10%. 

How on earth will this help our garment industry? Be it export oriented or domestic market oriented, will this help reduce the unemployment problem?

There is so much to be done to uplift the local manufacturer/exporter. Is the government doing anything about it? What has happened to the Export Development Bank? The government has failed the industrialist in this regard. 

What the industrialist needs is convenient export credit at low cost, and quickly help the local entrepreneurs. Not suicide missions, inviting the wolf to the hens' house!

What is the point of having a large market when we do not have the means and advantages to cater to that market. The government shackles the local entrepreneurs and requests them to dance with foreign exporters. Are we not putting the cart before the bull?

Sri Lankan industrialists may be the only ones in their lot in the world, to be so exposed to challenges of such competition with no govt. protection, support or at least, recognition!


Children: most valuable asset

It was with concern and disappointment that I read the news item headlined Ad ban smokes again in The Sunday Times of December 27. 

Lord Jesus Christ said: "What is the use for a man to own the whole world and lose his soul." 

Shouldn't we say the same, this way "What is the use of all that revenue, sports festivals and gold medals, if we are to lose our most valuable assets, youth and children to smoke, alcohol and drugs." (S-A-D)

"Puttha watthu manussanang" said Lord Buddha. Aren't our children our most valuable asset. If those "Pundits" advising our President have children, will they like them getting addicted to any of these killer drugs? Will the President (mother herself) like her children doing so? 

Some of our politicians are on the war path against Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero for his wonderful sermons where he vociferously condemns smoking, alcohol and drugs. 

Wayamba Samajaroga Dumveti Mathdravya Nivarana Sangamaya 

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