Letters to the Editor

21st January 2001

Dissolve PCs and create committees

Provincial Councils were introduced by President J.R. Jayewardene to overcome the threat posed by India at that time. 

His farsighted move brought the IPKF to enforce peace and later wage war against India's erstwhile protege, the LTTE.

His successors had other views and sent back the IPKF which in time could have finished the job they started.

The present government hoped to achieve by discussion what the two previous ones failed to do by negotiation, placation and war. But this too was a failure.

Then came the idea of offering "Eelam by another name" in the words of the late Minister S. Thondaman. That "package" was stillborn with the LTTE as well as the Sinhala majority.

Far from bringing peace it would only divide the people more on ethnic lines.

Provincial Councils have served their intended purpose and are now redundant, draining public funds and duplicating functions, creating conflicting laws and regulations and burdening the people with additional taxes. 

Government Agents and their officials did a more efficient and impartial job.

To serve the periphery better and attend to the specific needs of each province, without this colossal expense, a simple and inexpensive device would be Provincial Committees made up of Members of Parliament from each province. 

They could then attend to provincial matters within Parliament itself. 

No additional powers need to be given to anyone and no provincial boundaries need to be changed.

The enormous saving on salaries, allowances, security and transport for politicians and staff, elections, buildings, office equipment and land could generate ample funds for development, to deal with the raging problem of unemployment. These funds could also be channelled for the war-effort, to end LTTE terrorism. 

Political parties should develop this idea into a workable form. Rectifying injustices and fighting terrorism must remain two distinct issues, needing different solutions.

Lincoln Wijeyesinghe

Charles Dickens' tale is right here

Great writers are great prophets. I remember the good old days when our teachers taught us Charles Dickens' The Tale of Two Cities.

The living conditions depicted in the book are similar to what is prevailing in our country today. It is the best of times for the cabinet ministers, the junior ministers and all other MPs and provincial councillors and the worst of times for the underprivileged. 

For some, this is a spring of hope, for the rest, a winter of despair. Some have everything before them but the majority of people has little or nothing. 

Politicos have promised to bring down the cost of living instead, the recent fuel price hike has pushed consumers into the fire from the frying pan.

An LPG cylinder which used to be Rs. 270 is now more than Rs.500. Rice, sugar, vegetables and fish sell at exorbitant prices. No edible oil is available today for less than 150 rupees a litre. 

With every budget, prices rise to the sky and people have no other alternative other than making incessant complaints. No wage-earner can afford to live in peace and harmony as his family members constantly criticise him for not providing basic needs.

The government through incentives and subsidies should take effective steps to ease the burden of the poor before it is too late.

-Dharma Kaviraj

No wish for controversy

Manjari Peiris of Maharagama is entitled to his opinion (The Sunday Times, January 7) as much as I am to mine.

If I have the opportunity to write a similar article again, I will be happy to do so. I do not wish to enter into any controversy on this subject with anyone. 

I would like to end with three quotations.

"When I meet a man I never think of his race, colour and religion but, I feel that I have met another member of my human family." Tibetan Spiritual leader - His Holiness Dalai Lama

"One should give up anger, renounce pride, and overcome all fetters. Suffering never befalls him who cling not to mind and body and is detached." Dhammapada, verse - 221

"There never was, there never will be, nor is there now, a person who is wholly blamed or wholly praised." Dhammapada, verse - 228

Bhikkhu Horowpothane Sathindriya 

The original 007

In 1935, the renowned British publishing house, I. Odhams Press Ltd of London released a large volume of humorous short stories and plays. The book was titled, 'The Great Book of Humour'. The collection consisted of selected writings from the works of famous writers belonging to every age. 

It provided many delicious doses of the stimulating elixir called humour.

Its flavours were many - sparkling satire, rich irony, fully-spiced wit, pungent burlesque, bubbling farce and sharp-tongued paradox. Among the 50 distinguished writers chosen were Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, Washington Irving, J.B. Priestley, Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse.

The book contained a short story by a British woman writer who had got her first detective story published and literally overnight been recognized as one of the best exponents of this genre. Her short story was not published earlier and was titled, 'The Rajah's Emerald'. It was not a detective story but a humorous one about a Walter Mitty like character. The author selected a pedestrian name for her bumbling middle class hero. 

The name, James Bond the author, Agatha Christie.

Dr. Upatissa Attygalle
Colombo 7

Other side of the gallows

I read with much interest the article, 'I watched them being hanged' by H.G. Dharmadasa, former Commissioner of Prisons (The Sunday Times, January 7).

Mr. Dharmadasa who studied at St. Aloysius' College, Galle, was an exemplary student. He was also kind, gentle and friendly. It is understandable that such a fine gentleman would have been appalled at the judicious hanging he was forced by duty to watch or supervise. 

But had he seen those brutal murders committed, had he seen those innocent people cruelly done to death, had he seen the trail of suffering the victim's relatives had to endure, I do not think, knowing him as I do, that he would have written as he has done.

There are two sides to a story. His is only one.

Anton Ferreira

How long have you held the post?

It is indeed sad that the ambassador who I believe, is selected by a US Senate subcommittee made his official visit to the Mahanayake in a strange manner. 

He took with him a few "reliable witnesses" (biases would be the wrong word). But he was completely out of tune with the culture and customs of this country.

The Mahanayake is one of the most venerated persons in Sri Lanka and apparently no effort had been made to find out the period of his incumbency if indeed that was important prior to meeting the prelate. No one in his senses would ask the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope or the Imam of the Grand Mosque, "How long have you held the post?"

There appears to have been total ignorance of the basic act of respect removal of one's footwear on entering a Buddhist temple, Hindu kovil or mosque. No one in the party knew this! Or were they blinded by a single yet unknown fixed ulterior motive? 

These gentlemen should immediately familiarise themselves with the customs and traditions of the "natives". 

I am sure they will not get fresh postings for this "minor" lapse.

P.K. Silva

Politics of giving and Muslim leadership

At a time when transparency and accountability are in vogue, I am tempted to look at a fascinating principle that guides the accountancy profession "crediting what goes out and debiting what comes in".

What has this principle got to offer the Muslim leadership in Sri Lanka?

The Muslim leadership is currently in the midst of great challenges much of which could be traced to the 19th and 20th centuries. The development of representative government during this period, transformed the role of leadership. Among the less desirable effects was the development of sectarian thinking among representatives which gradually gave way to unbridled communalism, where national interest was overshadowed.

The Muslim leadership sailed with this ill-wind. We had nothing to offer to the Muslim community, and much less to the nation, except to go around, with a begging bowl, pleading for the "eight percent" share, beyond which our political horizon was blank. Our leadership went about, as though, we had no principles or traditions, philosophy or sagacity, or standards of our own. In the past, the Muslim leadership was not confined to those personalities who adorn Parliament.

Traditional leadership had been with the clerics; a group of learned men. They looked after their congregation and organised it as a self-supporting entity, that was able to contribute to the national effort primarily by developing its trading acumen. It was an alien characteristic for this community to seek favours or positions of influence, particularly where such positions were undeserved.

Unfortunately, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the influence of the clerical leadership waned. This was due to the rise of representative government on one hand and the decline in the quality, character and outlook of the clerics themselves. The decline was a universal phenomenon.

The effective leadership of the community gradually shifted to the neo-politician. Whether the earliest of these representative leaders had a vision for the community and the nation is of academic interest.

However, it may be noted that the representative leadership that came with the advancing years did not show any familiarity with the national policy nor did they formulate an acceptable target for the Muslim community. 

There was no vision to resurrect the community to its traditions of self-reliance and independence and above all, to patriotism, which forms part of the Islamic faith. 

Indeed the political leadership showed little knowledge of the Islamic institutions and even less faith in them. The pedestrian leadership was caught in the ill-wind of communal politics. Ridiculous 'ideals' such as obtaining a share of placements for Muslims in certain spheres of national life and possibly a few window-dressing appointments here and there, seemed almost the end in the political aspirations of the leadership. 

The political component of the accounting principle of "credit what goes out" was probably best expounded by the Lebanese poet philosopher Kahlil Gibran and given currency by the late American president John F. Kennedy, through the immortal words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

The Muslim leadership in Sri Lanka had for long manifested the converse of this philosophy. The time is now right to revitalise the Muslim community through its own institutions. 

The Muslim institutions of compulsory Zakat and Fitr, and the voluntary Sadaquah, combined with the divine abhorrence of vainglorious pomp and waste must be tapped to establish a sound economic base for poverty alleviation, development of education and furthering scientific and economic development. 

Our intellectuals owe a duty, both to the community and to the nation to formulate a charter of action, for collective contribution towards the new and expanding frontiers of national aspirations. 

Our mosques need to be revived as centres of activity for the community, for development as self-reliant entities, that could proudly make a strong link in the national chain, seeking to strengthen the nation through its own strength.

Indeed we would then, as we believe our destiny is, proudly give the lead in the "politics of giving", that may well become infectious. What more, our example will become the forerunner to the solution of the most daunting problem of our times.

A.Q. M. Ghazzali


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