Letters to the Editor
16th July 2000
With regard to the Labour Minister's comments on migrant workers from Sri Lanka, at the 88th International Labour Conference in Geneva recently, facts at ground level, seem at total variance with his statements.
I make it a point to talk to these workers when I am in transit at airports such as Dubai or others in the Middle East. The horror stories almost all of them relate, belie his facile rhetoric. In Kuwait, for instance, the Sri Lankan Embassy staff allegedly ignore the desperate plight of these workers, to the extent that some commit suicide! They claim that the embassy staff are firmly on the side of the employers who were harassing them.
The Minister rightly states that the 1.5 million employed in foreign countries render a valuable service to Sri Lanka. In fact, they cumulatively provide one of our chief, if not the chief source of valuable foreign exchange. Doesn't it then behove him in particular as Minister of Labour, as well as the whole government, to ensure that their welfare is given top priority and their needs are nurtured and protected, from the beginning, when they take their first steps (i.e. try to get their passports) in seeking employment in foreign countries?
Inspite of the much lauded Bureau of Foreign Employment, there are still umpteen unscrupulous, employment agencies which exploit women job-seekers. It should be made mandatory, that all new job-seekers are given a short, basic training including an awareness of legal rights, the work that will be expected of them, use of domestic electrical appliances, survival English/Arabic (or whatever the language in the country they plan to work in) etc. Some orientation and counselling on living in a different social, religious and cultural setting would be helpful. Co-ordination with the families they are leaving behind, especially young children, for whose sake most of them face the trauma of employment in strange lands, is also important.
When they do return after a spell of hard labour abroad, even if they are not given the red carpet treatment, garlands and drummers that greet transitory tour groups, is it too much to ask, that they be treated with respect and helped to return to their homes safely, with all their hard earned money and possessions intact?
It is a well-known fact that pensioners, especially those who retired long before salary revisions etc., are going through trying times because of inflation and rising prices.
Calls for redress are made practically every week through the newspapers. It is also a well-known fact that no honest effort has been made to redress such inequities. Thus it was with relief that we welcomed the news that the government would alleviate our hardships by giving temporary allowances.
However, the announcement itself clearly shows that the pensioners are considered second class citizens and would always get only a pittance.
The recent announcement says that government servants drawing less than Rs. 12,000 would get a monthly allowance of Rs. 600. This shows that the government accepts the fact that to maintain a decent life in these trying times, you need at least Rs. 12,600, or thereabouts, and that the government was willing to help out with an allowance of Rs. 600.
But when it came to pensioners they qualified for the additional allowance only if their payment was Rs. 6,000.
See the double standards-those in service require Rs. 12,000 or thereabouts to survive while pensioners can manage with Rs. 6,000
Pensioners would also get only Rs. 300. Perhaps the government thinks that pensioners get consumer goods at subsidised rates....!
I receive Rs. 6,020 per month as a pension which means that I will not be entitled to the Rs. 300 allowance. How unfair and cruel....!
I would think that in the name of equality, justice and fairplay, all those drawing less than Rs. 12,600 for serving officers and Rs. 6,300 for pensioners should be given the allowance.
After all, we are all at the mercy of the ever fluctuating market place and some relief is always welcome.
The recent happenings in the banking sector are truly shocking. A powerful bank, with total disregard for the laws of the country and interests of the depositors, shareholders and employees is making an effort to take- over a rival.
In doing so, the bank concerned has compromised the interests of all their stakeholders in this extremely risky venture. It is termed risky because this bank has not only used its recently raised share capital which was in any case badly needed, but also depositors' monies and money belonging to employees, the Employees' Provident Fund and the Pension Fund in their highly questionable effort to acquire control of the smaller bank without a proper professional investigation.
The corporate sector both in Sri Lanka and overseas, in the recent past has been littered with mergers and acquisitions that went wrong.
In Sri Lanka, Vanik Incorporation too faced a similar predicament when it purchased Forbes Ceylon Limited in a highly leveraged manner, at a high price. The result was a record low share price for Vanik with no sign of recovery.
The recent takeover of National Westminster Bank by the rival Royal Bank of Scotland is another classic example. In this case National Westminster Bank, without considering the interests of their shareholders and depositors went on an acquiring spree taking over banks, insurance companies, property developers and a whole host of businesses. This resulted in a drastic drop in their share prices.
This made National Westminster Bank a "sitting duck" and was taken over by the Royal Bank of Scotland which was less than one third its size.
The parallels are clear. Unless Hatton National Bank realises its mistake and gives up its ambitions the time when HNB becomes the "hunted" is not far away.
Many types of lotteries and other incentives are being offered by banks in Sri Lanka to lure customers, especially for savings and current accounts.
I have been a customer of an "upcountry" national bank, with savings deposits for many years. But I have yet to receive a notification that I am entitled to a particular draw.
Recently a friend whose account is at the Thimbirigasyaya branch received intimation about the draw. He has been receiving these notices on and off.
On inquiring from my branch, why I have not received such intimation, they told me that it would come in due course.
Two days later I received this intimation. But, there was complete silence after that although several main draws have been held.
This bank said via the print media a few years back, that customers are informed in writing about their entitlement and participation at these draws.
How can customers be sure that their names are entered in the lottery or whether the bank is entering only their favourite big depositors?
What prompted me to write this was the daily advertisement this bank places in the newspapers. The advertisement published on June 30 in an English daily said "Yesterday's winners were Ms. Silva and Mr. Sinnathamby" while the ad in a Sinhala daily on the same day said the winners were Mrs. Ferenando and Ms. Marasinghe.
I hope the Central Bank's supervision unit is keeping both eyes open with regard to these draws so that all depositors who are entitled get a fair deal.
With reference to Alia's contention in 'Missed a point' (The Sunday Times, June 25), I would like to contribute my two-cents to the matter.
As Vice President of CeSPA, I keep a rapport with the Traffic Police in the course of which I have gathered that many of the constables seen on the road are new recruits who have not gone through the IG's traffic course.
They could, therefore, be less conversant with regulations relating to vehicles, such as lighting, side mirrors, tinted glasses, enforcing the Highway Code.
The Maharagama incident in question could have been due to a similar shortcoming on the part of the policeman concerned.
Moreover, the traffic police must be tracking down numerous offenders these days, and it would not be surprising if there was a rare case such as this incident.
I am aware of a similar case, where on being referred to a higher officer such as an Officer-in-Charge, traffic, the charge was withdrawn, after advising the policeman concerned.
It was a sorry sight to see the performance of one-time world champions in the Asia Cup final against Pakistan.
Catches were dropped, bowling was wayward and erratic and the batting was spineless, with many top order batsmen playing irresponsible shots to get out. The leadership lacked that extra bit of edge or bite which was clearly exposed in the recent Test matches against Pakistan.
The first Test belonged to us but we gave it away on a silver platter.
The second Test was lost on the very first day itself, when we were bundled out for a meagre score of 181.
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