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17th June 2001
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An old recluse is seen here worshipping a picture
depicting the events of religious significance
in the life of the Buddha at the Kelaniya 
Rajamaha Vihara. 
Pic. by Iresha Waduge.

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Crisis brews at Ridgeway 

The Government Medical Officers Association charged yesterday that the Health Ministry was violating the fundamental rights of children and others by refusing to appoint a deputy director for a hospital which caters to about 4,500 children daily.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya told The Sunday Times that doctors at the Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital would have no option but to take trade union action by Wednesday if the Ministry did not agree to what doctors see as a reasonable request. 

He said that for the past two years the LRH one of the largest children's hospitals in Asia had been running with only one director though the administrative workload had become heavier by the month. Sometimes files and documents on even simple matters had to be taken to the director's residence because there was no deputy director to handle them. 

Dr. Padeniya said the GMOA had not resorted to strike action at the LRH all these months because it did not want to cause more suffering to children. 

When the ministry delayed the appointment of a deputy director for several months, the GMOA took the issue to the Human Rights Commission. 

After an inquiry the HRC ruled that the failure to appoint a deputy director was a violation of the fundamental rights of the children, of the hospital workers and of the individual who was denied the appointment. Despite this ruling by the HRC, the ministry was further delaying the appointment of a deputy director. Thus the GMOA was compelled to take tough action, Dr. Padeniya said. 

A news conference will be held at GMOA headquarters at 11 a.m tomorrow to explain the doctors' position to the people and to make a final appeal to the government.

Responding to the GMOA claims, Health Minister John Seneviratne said yesterday that the appointment of a deputy director was a matter under the purview of the ministry and the doctors' demand was unreasonable.


Top officials sent home

By Shelani de Silva
More than 200 senior officers who have been working in various ministries after retiring from the public service are being sent home on a cabinet decision.

On a recommendation by a ministerial committee the cabinet decided that the services of these officers who have reached the age of 60 and were receiving both pensions and monthly salaries should be terminated immediately.

Public Administration Minister Richard Pathirana said they would be replaced by officers from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service. 

He said exceptions to the termination order would be made in the case of medical officers, engineers, those working in the north east and other specialised personnel.


Education reforms hit rural students

By Nilika de Silva 
The gap in performance between rural and urban students has widened following the introduction of the education reforms, a survey conducted by the National Institute of Education reveals.

The survey in Literacy and Numeracy conducted among selected schools in the Gampaha District comprised of a comparison of the performance of Grade III students before and after the introduction of the educational reforms in 1998. 

Educationists are presently reviewing the information supplied through the survey with a view to making improvements in the existing conditions.

In Numeracy the improvement in urban schools registered a mean percentage difference of 13.98, although in rural schools it only registered a difference of 0.17, the survey sponsored by UNICEF Sri Lanka disclosed.

While the mean percentage of student performance in Numeracy has increased in urban schools (from 63.06 percent in 1997 to 77.04 percent in 2000), no such improvement was identified in rural schools (where the change was from 56.84 percent in 1997 to 57.01 percent in 2000). 

Thus the percentage improvement among urban schools since 1998 is shown to be +22.17 percent whereas among rural schools it is only +0.3 percent.

Similarly in the mastery of Literacy, in urban schools the improvement was from 58 percent in 1997 to 72 percent in 2000, whereas in rural schools the improvement was from 39 percent in 1997 to 46.7 percent only in 2000.

The study further revealed that instead of enhancing the students' abilities in some instances the reforms had a detrimental effect.

For instance, in a table rating achievement of mastery levels in specific skills of Numeracy namely Concepts, Procedure and Problem Solving, the survey revealed that regarding Concepts the percentage improvement was minus 24.6 percent. The students tested in 1997 had a better understanding of concepts (41.9 percent) than those tested in the year 2000 (31.6 percent).


N-E docs give govt. one month to settle risk allowance issue

By Chris Kamalendran
Doctors serving in the Northern and Eastern Provinces have given the government a month's ultimatum to resolve the problem regarding the risk allowance paid to doctors serving in the two provinces.

Representatives of doctors serving in the north and east gave the ultimatum when they met Health Minister W.D.J. Seneviratne and the Minister of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for the North, Douglas Devananda in Colombo on Friday.

After the discussions the doctors had called off a go slow campaign carried out in the north and east for four days.

The doctors' representatives put forward three alternatives at the meeting with the minister-withdraw the circular issued earlier which stated that only non-resident doctors will be entitled to the risk allowance or transfer the resident doctors out of the province or share the risk allowance money which has been allocated only for doctors from out of the provinces.

Batticaloa District GMOA President , Dr. Philip Rajanathan said that if the government fails to give a reasonable solution to their problem they would resort to a go slow campaign again.

Mr. Seneviratne explained that if a decision is taken to pay the resident doctors in the north and east a risk allowance the government would also have to pay teachers and other government servants the same allowance.


Students file FR case

The Inter University Students' Federation filed a case in the Supreme Court on Friday condemning the violation of the fundamental rights of students who were attacked while engaging in a peaceful demonstration. 

Citing the Attorney General and several senior officers of the Police as respondents the Inter University Students Federation has filed the FR case through their lawyers. 


Who broke the budget ban?

By Ruwan Weerakoon
Customs are probing charges that some private banks hurriedly opened up as many as 40 letters of credit for VIPs to import of duty free vehicles hours before the budget.

Customs Director S.A.C.S.W Jayatillake said they had checked ledgers and documents at banks and found that some of them had been altered while in some cases proper entries were not maintained.

Reports after the budget said some top politicians and officials apparently aware of the proposal to stop the duty-free facility had made a last minute dash to the banks to beat the ban.

The Sunday Times learns that Customs has come under political pressure to stop some of the investigations.


Int'l glare for CJ 

The JVP is to carry out an international protest campaign against the Chief Justice, after the Speaker gives his verdict next week. The JVP which joined with the UNP in signing the impeachment motion is scheduled to launch a massive protest in Colombo. JVP MP Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times that the party had strongly opposed the appointment of the Chief Justice. 'We will wait for the Speaker's verdict and then launch the protest campaign' he said. 

Busmen want CBK's order obeyed

The Private Bus Owners' Association will meet and take action if the President's directives to the Police are not being obeyed by Wednesday, Association Treasurer Gemunu Wijeratne said. 

"We are totally dissatisfied with the response from the police to circulars sent to the individual stations on a directive of President Kumar-atunga," Mr. Wijeratne told The Sunday Times yesterday. 

"Even this morning I received several complaints from bus owners," he stressed. 

Following a meeting representatives of the Private Bus Owners' Association had with President Kumaratunga, IGP Kodituwakku, and Transport Minister Dinesh Gunawardena last month, the IGP was ordered to issue a circular to police stations advising them against taking haphazard decisions regarding errant private bus drivers and conductors. 

One of the main problems faced by bus owners is that police seize all documentation pertaining to the vehicle and those of drivers in a bid to force the drivers to visit the police station to get them back, The Sunday Times learns.


National campaign on justice for patients

The Action Committee on Justice for Patients (ACJP) has decided to carry out a national campaign to reduce the cost of medicines by promoting the import, prescription and sale of low cost drugs.

The committee comprising several civic action groups met on Friday to work out the national campaign in corporation with the Health Ministry, the Government Medical Officers Association, State Pharmaceuticals Cooperation, and other bodies.

A spokesman for the committee said that during a proposed national week on justice for patients, they hope to make the people aware of how they could slash their medical bills by more than 50 percent through the use of drugs under generic names or low cost brand names instead of highly expensive ones.

With private drug companies known to be importing thousands of highly expensive brand names and fooling or virtually forcing patients to buy them, the spokesman said there was an urgent need for strict government control or monitoring of drug imports and sales.

He said that by this process every family could cut its health care bills by 50 to 70 percent while the country's overall drug import bill could also be slashed by more than half, thus saving billions of rupees in foreign exchange annually.

It was disclosed at the meeting that private drug companies were selling their highly expensive brand names mainly to private hospitals and also to the security forces, though the less costly drugs of the same variety were known to be equally effective.


'As Bee' the great puts George B in the shade !

Clinically yours - by Dr. Who
Who is the more powerful man, George Bush or Sumanasekera Banda Dissanayake?

You'd say it was Bush, the leader of the so-called most powerful country on earth but I'd say it was "As Bee" our diminutive Samurdhi Minister, Minister of Up-country Development, and Deputy Minister of Finance cum general secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. And, that's not because of his multi-faceted titles either. Consider the evidence: Bush's two daughters are nabbed for drinking because they are still below the legal age limit for alcohol use in that country. The media goes to town Imageabout it. Cartoons lampoon the girls who are also at the butt end of TV talk show jokes. 

Alas, there is nothing poor papa George can do about it. And he can do nothing about the legal matters that arise too: no phone calls to the judge trying the case and no threatening the cops with transfer to Alaska! Let's take our As Bee's offspring: he gatecrashes the Royal-Thomian with his friends and when he is resisted, he asks non-chalantly, "Do you know who I am? If I want, I can even stop this match!". 

Enter a former Thomian and Sri Lanka cricket captain who-probably fearing that a 122 years of tradition will be put aside- "graciously" grants entry to the young man! Of course, As Bee is in good company. One powerful and energetic minister's son was implicated in a murder not so long ago but no one talks about it now. Another Deputy Minister's son was involved in a Chicago-style chase with the cops in the heart of Colombo Fort for alleged gold smuggling. And the latest: policemen who checked a deputy minister's vehicle at the Dalada Maligawa have been transferred to less congenial stations! How could we even think of comparing such incidents with Princess Diana being charged with speeding or Tony Blair visiting the police station to bail out his son? 

No sir, this is Sri Lanka where whether you are right or wrong depends on whose who you are. Someone long dead said that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely but this is the land where even a little power corrupts absolutely and inflates the egos of it's possessors. Surely then, we cannot lay all the blame at As Bee's door. Or, for that matter his son's. 

The blame must lie with we the people, you and me, for tolerating such 'trivialities' as a way of life. Huh, you may ask, why should we protest? After all, if the former Sports Minister's son can't enter the Royal-Thomian without a ticket, what's the big deal in becoming a minister? So, there we are. As Bee is more powerful than George B. 

If you still have any doubts, consider what happened at the two elections- in the US and in Sri Lanka. George B was stuck with a recount in Florida for weeks. Our As Bee cleaned up the mess in the Central province with a spectacular display of 'public support' in Hanguranketha and ensured victory for the blues within hours. That, I'm sure, will suffice to rest my case.


ACBC in disarray after court order

By Shelani de Silva
Sri Lanka's premier Buddhist association was in turmoil yesterday with its annual general meeting being put off on a court order amidst allegations of misuse of funds.

The Colombo District Court on Friday issued an injunction restraining the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress from holding its AGM, but some members turned up at the headquarters at Bauddhaloka Mawatha yesterday and later held a demonstrations, demanding that a fresh date be set for the meeting.

ACBC Secretary Mahinda Sarachandra told The Sunday Times that the ACBC premises had been neglected and there were no funds even to pay salaries while the phones were disconnected.

Thus the members were demanding that a meeting be held to appoint a new board, he said.

Some of the members accused the present officials of being responsible for the misuse or mismanagement of funds, a charge that has been vehemently denied.


Priority for war surgery

War surgery is considered as a speciality in medicine and is being given top priority, Health Services Chief A. M. L. Beligaswatte said.

He was peaking at a seminar on war surgery organised by the ICRC to share experiences of the ICRC and local surgeons with a view to upgrading the standards of war surgery. Dr. Gamini Goonetilleke, President of the College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka, said that the main aim of the seminar was to rehabilitate the victims of war and help them live a productive life.

Army Chief Lionel P. Balegalle and several others spoke at the seminar which was attended by about 100 doctors.

An effective multimedia presentation on first aid at the time of wounding and evacuation of casualties was given in a realistic manner.

Other topics included Management of head injuries, Anaesthetic Complications, Damage Control, Abdominal Injuries and Use of Radiology.


Mayors await response from CBK

By Nilika de Silva
Sri Lanka's mayors are still awaiting a response from President Kuamratunga on their request for urgent talks to discuss what they see as an erosion of municipal rights.

Dehiwela-Mt. Lavinia Mayor Jayaratne Perera who heads the National Chapter of Mayors said they hoped to meet the President or Urban Development Minister Mangala Samaraweera to discuss the issue. The Mayors' move came amidst a conflict in Colombo where the Municipal Council is clashing openly with the Urban Development Authority over the takeover of the Viharamahadevi Park and the city's water supplies.

About one thousand CMC workers supported by UNP leaders staged a demonstration at Lipton's Circus on Monday protesting against the takeover of their duties.

Trade Union leader Jagath Alwis told The Sunday Times that some 380 CMC workers involved in the water supply feared they might lose their jobs. This came after a UDA official said the Authority had enough workers of its own to run the city's water supply.


Snippets

Friend or foe?
In the continuing saga of an old friendship sadly gone sour, the camps on both sides are hard at work.

Those on one side point to suspected leaks concerning alleged improprieties and about back dated proxies. These leaks, they believe, ended in a deluge over a familiar rotund torso. Not done they say. 

Those on the other feel that death threats from misguided elements and a prank with a macabre twist over the last weekend, not to mention earlier indignities, is going too far. Not done they say. 

The recently jobless Viking might be available to facilitate peace talks.

Nothing like home cooked food
The gastronomic delights of legislators at the subsidized rate have often generated much criticism for the non-reflection of the soaring cost of living- but the subsided meals also could have their Imagedownside.

A fortnight ago it was the tale of a weevil making its presence felt on a senior Cabinet minister's plate of rice. As if that was not enough, this time it was a 'dalambuwa' (caterpillar) making itself comfortable on a piece of lettuce in a young UNP legislator's plate. 

And the goss is that legislators are actually beginning to go home for their lunch, despite the attractive subsidy et al!

Betraying with a hug!
ImageThe day Minister Mahinda Rajapakse hosted some fishermen and others for lunch in Parliament the minister was coming out of the restaurant when he met Gamini Athukorale in the lobby. 

Seeing Mr.Athukorale, he hugged him and said 'machan umballa apey emithkamatath thattu keranda the hadanne?" (Are you trying to deprive us of our ministership), an obvious reference to the proposed no-confidence motion coming up against the government. 

Grapevine unearths vineyard
Driving along Duplication Road, one cannot miss the number of vendors selling grapes and other fruits. Of course all these are imported, even the prices ! But imagine having a vineyard in the heart of Colombo, hard to believe but it came through the grapevine that there is reportedly a lush vineyard at Temple Trees. The vineyard is said to have been planted at the time when President Chandrika Kumaratunga came into occupation. What's more the neatly laid out vineyard is said to bear fruit all year through. 


Major anti-corruption shuffle in CEB

Twenty-four Deputy General Managers of the Ceylon Electricity Board are to be transferred as part of a series of measures to insulate the loss-making state power giant from corruption, sources said. They said the CEB, which had been rocked by corruption allegations at the highest level, would effect the transfers from this month and the first to be transferred would be those deputy general managers who had been serving in one location for the past six years. The transfer plan was part of a series of measures the CEB was taking in the wake of allegations against its senior officials. Last week the CEB interdicted General Manager A. P. P. Seneviratne pending investigations on alleged tender irregularities. 

CoL ministers to meet food importers

By Shelani de Silva
The ministerial committee looking into ways and means to bring down the cost of living will meet importers of food items to ask them why they cannot keep prices at reasonable level.

Committee member and Food and Marketing Minister Reggie Ranatunga said they would meet top officials of companies which import milkfood, sugar, flour, rice and onions soon and seek their views on price reduction.

He said they were also working out a plan to reduce gas and electricity prices and added that once the committee gave the proposals they would ensure that they were implemented to bring relief to the masses.

"No person will be allowed to sell the product above the committee's stipulated sum. If they do it, we will take action against them," he said.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga set the committee a three-week time frame to submit a report containing proposals to reduce the cost of living, but Mr. Ranatunga said they would request her to give them two more weeks.

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