27th May 2001
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Mahinda's broadside on elite

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Mahinda Rajapakse addressing a forum on the condition of children in the rural and urban communities in Sri Lanka questioned the sincerity of Colombo-based English-speaking middle class people who employ child domestics. Extracts:

"When I am invited to any conference or forum on children's issues, especially when it is conducted in Colombo, a particular incident comes to my mind.

"When I was the Minister of Labour, I was informed of how the wife of a VVIP of an earlier era had treated a girl child she had employed as a domestic. The little girl aged 12 came from Devinuwara in the Matara district. Till the age of 16 this woman employed her whose husband had held an exalted position in the country. She had been fed, given clothes and made to work. No education had been provided and no salary had been paid for four years. At 16 she was sacked by her employer and sent back home. I got the child and her parents down and ordered a probe. Later the Labour Commissioner ordered the employer to pay a big sum as compensation to the child, which she did.

"This incident has compelled me to question the sincerity of the Colombo-based English-speaking middle class people. Can they really understand the rural child or for that matter the rural family? Do they know what it means to be poor? Do they know what it means to be deprived of dignity? Do they have compassion for the rural child? Do they feel for the rural child? Or do they see the rural child as a potential child servant, though rural society has changed, and fortunately today there are very few rural children willing to be sent as domestic servants to urban elite homes.

"I am really not sure whether the elite of Colombo can empathise with the rural child. Without love and compassion for the rural child, you should not get involved in programmes aimed at improving the wellbeing of rural and urban poor children. People should not get involved in such projects simply because there is money coming from international donor agencies for child-focused programmes. Unlike with other segments of society, we must work with children only if we have compassion for them. Otherwise we can do a lot of damage to our nation's greatest treasure - our children.

"I see very few rural faces here today, although the 15 books are about the children of Sinhala and Tamil-speaking villages. At best a few rural or urban poor children may have been brought here for symbolic or cosmetic purposes. I also wonder why this forum is not being conducted in Sinhala and Tamil with simultaneous translation in English for the foreigners. I am sure the Norwegians who organised this forum have some very good reason for this, especially since they have published the books in Sinhala, Tamil and English. I am certain they will tell me the reasons when we are having tea and refreshments.

"Now let me address the researchers. You have brought out a very important contrast between the issues and problems relating to children in western countries whose economies are driven by self-interest and the ruthless pursuit of profit and those in developing Asian countries.

Western countries today are for all practical purposes run according to the dictates of transnational and national corporations. In those countries, corporate capital is king. They are plain and simple money-led societies where the countervailing force of morality, ethics, spirituality and religion hardly exists. Self-interest is their driving force. And self-interest breeds competition. And competition breeds individualism. Everyone works for himself or herself. Community values and morals have broken down. Religious values have disappeared. Community, kinship, neighbourhood, church or parish and extended families have almost disappeared. Finally the nuclear family itself has broken down. Children are isolated.

There is no one to care for them. More and more children have become nobody's business. So in the West, the issues and problems relating to children are the product of the pursuit of money and affluence.

"In contrast, the issues and problems relating to rural and urban poor children in developing countries, such as, Sri Lanka are the product of poverty. Except in the case of street and refugee children who are comparatively very small in number, the social institutions that nurture and protect the child are still strong in Sri Lanka. If children can't get educated, if they can't have access to proper health services, if they don't have adequate clothing, housing, water, sanitation and food, it is because they are poor. It does not mean that social institutions that care for the child have broken down.

"The two situations cannot be compared. How can child-focused strategies and programmes developed in the West and delivered to Asian countries by foreign aid agencies be relevant or appropriate for improving the well being of our rural children? Some people refer to this type of domination as intellectual imperialism.

"I have got some of my ministry officials to study the two books, volume 3 and 4, relating to the two fishing villages where tourism has taken root.

After hearing what the two books had to say, I think that boy prostitution in coastal villages is associated with the decline of the coastal fishing economy and the failure of the local economy to offer alternate sources of income. Male prostitution is an activity that brings in an income. So some have adopted it as a viable but immoral economic option.

"One solution is to look at the coastal zone as a unique economic - ecological entity. We must plan for the coastal zone as a whole rather than for each sector within the zone, such as the fishery sector, separately. This would require policy changes beyond my ministry. So I would invite some of my Cabinet colleagues to share their thoughts with me on this strategy.

The point I am making to the researchers is that their research on the two coastal villages has already influenced my thinking. This will give them an idea of how much I appreciate their work".

Case for a Catholic district

By Shanaka Jayasekara

A recent news report quoted Public Administration Minister Richard Pathirana as telling the government group that on the directive of the President, his Ministry had formulated plans to carve out an administrative district of Kalmunai.

It is clear from the recent demands put forward by the SLMC that the President's directive is a concession to the Muslim party for its continued support to the government.

It was also interesting to note that as a cushioning effect to any opposition by the majority community, the creative bureaucrats at the Public Administration Ministry have decided to carve out another new administrative district encompassing the Mahaweli areas of Mahiyangana in the Badulla district, Ududumbara in the Kandy district and Dehiattakandiya in the Ampara district. The irony of the territorial demarcations of such a district is that for the first time, a district will not be co-terminous with the provincial boundaries. The new Mahaweli district will encompass sections of the Central, Uva and the Eastern Provinces.

This will create a scenario in which two provincial councils will have to concede territory in a gesture of goodwill for the third Provincial Council to gain this territorial advantage. It will be interesting to see which provincial council will gain and which will lose.

The proposed changes will alter the administrative structure as defined in the 1978 Constitution. Therefore, any changes will have to be presented in Parliament as an amendment to Schedule 1 of the 1978 Constitution. However, there is a precedent to this, when the late President Jayewardene created the administrative district of Kilinochchi, carving it out of the Jaffna district. This exercise will also provide a vibrant debate regarding the consistency with the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution, which defines the Provincial Councils by administrative districts.

It is clear that the creation of the proposed Kalmunai district is an effort to satisfy Muslim politicians of an enclave of dominance within Sri Lanka. However, let's attempt to be objective and analyse the benefits of securing an administrative district for a specific community. At present all state resources such as medical benefits, educational benefits, agricultural assistance, infrastructure support, marks for university entrance and etc., are provided on a district allocation. As an example the government may decide to have one fully-fledged base hospital in each district or provide one national level school for each district. This would ensure that the district which was carved out for a special ethnic group, as in the case of Kalmunai will gain disproportionate benefits in a positive sense from this resource allocation methodology.

Therefore, if the government has taken a decision to institutionalise such favouritism to a single community, I believe the same measure should be used when providing for other ethnic or religious groups in the country. The Catholics of this country do not have a political party nor are the Catholic politicians assertive of Catholic interest. Therefore, it has been left to the hierarchy of the Church to act as the representatives of the Catholic population. They do not have the power to make coalition governments or break coalitions. Nor are they political wizards. In their own way, they have attempted toa ensure the rights of the Catholic constituency are not eroded.

However, the lack of being a political kingmaker seems to deprive the Catholic population of the same favouritism afforded to the Muslims. It is a little known fact that the Catholic community accounts for 7% of the population of this country, equal in number to the Muslim population. Therefore, if favouritism is being condoned by the government to a 7% population, then it is only justified that the other 7% is also treated in the same manner.

If Kalmunai is to be designated as an administrative district for the benefit of the Muslim population, then a Catholic district must also be accommodated to ensure equality in the process.

At present the Catholic belt from Wattala to Chilaw is marginalised within the Gampaha district and the Puttalam district. As pointed out earlier in the article, resource allocation by district has to be shared with the rest of Gampaha district and Puttalam district. While the Muslims in Kalmunai district will be the sole beneficiaries of such an allocation, the Catholics will have to be satisfied with the remnants that are distributed from the respective district secretariats.

For instance, if the government allocates funds to upgrade one school in each district to a national level school, the Muslims in Kalmunai district will be guaranteed of receiving a national level school, while the Catholics will only receive the same facility after Gampaha and Puttalam have fulfilled their needs. A clear case of unequal treatment to a segment of the population.

Therefore, it is proposed that the Divisional Secretary (AGA) divisions of Wattala, Ja-Ela, Negombo and Katana from the Gampaha district and the Divisional Secretary (AGA) divisions of Dankotuwa, Wennappuwa, Nattandiya, Mahawewa, Madampe, Chilaw and Arachchikattuwe from the Puttalam district be incorporated into a new district. This contiguous belt stretching from Wattala to Chilaw will encompass territory from the Western Province and the North-Western Province, however if the proposed new Mahaweli district is inducted there is a precedent to such an action. Therefore, if a Muslim district is created, it would be necessary to create a Catholic district to ensure the same benefits that accrue to a particular community will also be distributed among another community of equal number.

Scientists find missing link

WASHINGTON, (AFP) - A furry animal the size of a large paper clip that lived in the time of the dinosaurs may be the missing link in the evolution between reptiles and mammals, according to a report by US and Chinese paleontologists.

Scientists who closely examined a 12 millimeter-long fossilized skull dating from the early Jurassic period _ some 195 million years ago _ suggest that it belongs to a creature that is the oldest and closest known relative of today's mammals. Results of the research led by Zhe-Xi Luo from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Ai-lin Sun of the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing, are published in the Friday issue of the journal Science."

The fossil, discovered in 1985 in the fossil-rich beds of the Lower Lufeng Formation in Yunnan Province, southeastern China, has "widespread implications to scientists piecing together the earliest mammalian evolutionary history," according to the museum.

Scientists baptized it Hadrocodium wui hadro is Greek for "large and full," and codium is Greek for "head."

Hadrocodium has important mammalian traits, such as a very large brain and advanced ear structure, which could previously be traced only to the late Jurassic period, approimately 150 million years ago.

Indians change the face of Silicon Valley

SUNNYVALE, California, May 26 (AFP) - The aptly named Sunnyvale, a sun-drenched city in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, has officially become the center of the exploding Indian migration to high-tech America.

According to US census figures released this week, Silicon Valley's population whose origins are from India nearly doubled in the last decade, increasing by 97 percent to 314,819.

Silicon Valley is now the official home to California's largest Indian population, a booming center of immigration that's changing the demographic face of the United States."

Fuelling the immigration surge, most agree, is the high technology boom for which India and other Asian countries have been sending in an army of skilled immigrants.

In Silicon Valley, a region named for the substance used to form computer chips, Sunnyvale has become the leading magnet for the regions burgeoning Indian migration.

During the day, the city's population swells to 260,000, as commuters drive in to take their seats at high-tech companies like Yahoo, Network Appliance and Juniper Networks.

In the evening, the population drops by more than half, leaving behind a growing group of Indian residents. That immigration has manifested itself in a number of ways, both big and small, in Sunnyvale.

Ten years ago, Caucasians made up a majority of the student population. Now, they comprise only 26 percent of the school's student body. Asians, which include Indians, now comprise 18 percent of Sunnyvale's student population, still behind the 38 percent Hispanic population."

Many attribute Silicon Valley's Indian migration to the convergence of three over riding themes: India's independence in the 1950s, its ingrained ruling class and Silicon Valley's meritocracy based thirst for talent. India's independence in 1950 created a large middle class of skilled technology workers, the products of technological institutes implemented by the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. But this new skilled workforce was met with some indifference by family-run factories and monopolies, said Kailash Joshi, a long-time Silicon Valley high-tech executive."

Killer croc strikes at night

A man-eating crocodile which strikes at night is reported to be terrorising people at Borupana in Ratmalana after killing a garment factory worker, residents said.

The victim, Gamini (47), father of four was last seen by the banks of the Weras Ganga, a branch of the Bolgoda Lake. A boy who had seen him struggling in the water had rushed to alert the family, but it was too late.

Four days later search operations were still underway to find Gamini, but there was no trace.

Since that fateful night the crocodile is reported to be visiting the spot after 10 each night, villagers said.

They complain that the Police, Navy or other authorities had not helped much though they were informed.

They said there were about 300 houses along the river bank and a lot of children played there.

OPA calls for better governance

Corruption, politicisation, lack of integration between society and the legislative process and deprivation of media freedom have contributed towards poor governance, in Sri Lanka, the Organisation of Professionals Associations (OPA) said.

At its annual sessions recently, the OPA suggested remedial measures to improve governance by developing an action plan with time frames and particular organisations identified to implement the programme.

A report pointing out the key issues that had led to poor governance said successive governments had failed to respond effectively to people's needs and had abused the political system.

The association said a new agenda outlining a clear-cut government policy at three levels centre, region and the local community must be implemented as a whole and not in bits and pieces. It pointed out that previous efforts to bring reforms had failed due to many obstacles, which include a lack of political commitment.

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