8th July 2001
By Shelani de SilvaThe committee looking into ways to bring down the cost of living , submitted a detailed report consisting of 12 proposals to President Chandrika Kumaratunga last week.
The committee comprising ministers identified the prices of milk foods as one item which should be brought down. The President has been informed that if all milk food importers stopped their advertising campaigns they would be able to bring down the price.
Deputy Food and Marketing Minister Nandasena Herath, a member of the committee, told The Sunday Times the committee gave alternatives specially when importing essential food items.
"We suggested that we have to look for countries where we can get food items at a cheaper rate, for example, getting salmon from Maldives is cheaper than Chile but we have been getting it down from there and have not made any change. Similarly essential food items like dry fish and dhal can be bought at a cheaper price," Minister Herath said.
The committee has also studied ways to bring down the cost of electricity and telephone bills.
He also said the President had appointed a committee to upgrade rice mills by giving low interest loans to farmers to purchase modern equipment.
The committee has also decided to request the Treasury to remove the
taxes on selected food commodities.
Apart from cracking down on corruption the group of deputy ministers
would look into ways to improve the efficiency of ministries. (S.De S)
By M.IsmethThe Auditor General in his observations on the annual report of the Southern Development Authority (SDA) has stated that he is unable to comment on the accounts as there are major deficiencies.
The SDA's annual report for 1998 has highlighted major deficiencies such as accounting policies, inappropriate disclosures, under and over statements, omissions, irregular transactions, lack of evidence for audit, non-compliance with laws, rules, regulation and management decisions, unreliability over financial results and financial status and weaknesses in systems control.
The report said the operational deficit of the SDA amounted to Rs. 99,995,508 as compared with the corresponding operational deficit of Rs. 14,955,870 for the preceding year.
The report further said unspent balances from amounts released for development
expenditure had been accounted for as expenditure. Approval of the board
of directors and the President had not been obtained for the salary scheme
of the SDA staff. Meanwhile, reports on losses had not been furnished to
the Auditor General.
By Dilrukshi HandunnettiIn the milieu of political turmoil President Chandrika Kumaratunga has ordered a probe on the purchase of carpets and the installation of swipe machines with kickbacks for certain officials, parliamentary sources said.
The House is being re-carpeted since the Jayewardenepura parliamentary complex was built in 1979 and the refurbishing process is expected to be over early next year.
The original carpets will be replaced at a cost of over Rs. 6 million. Source said a probe by an internal audit unit had revealed that the laying of carpets had been done using expensive but inferior quality carpets. Rs. 267 had been spent per sq. ft. of the carpet, while another supplier had offered to provide the same quality at Rs. 67 per sq. ft..
The entire floor area to be carpeted, including the new rooms being built for the additional ministers is 25,000 sq.ft., and the difference when calculated is Rs. 200 per sq. ft. which amounted to a staggering Rs. 5 million being allegedly paid as kickback, sources said. .
Meanwhile, an air-conditioned Leyland bus had been bought for Parliament spending three times more than the market price, sources said.
They said the vehicle had been locally assembled although it had been bought as an imported Leyland bus. A leading insurance company is said to have refused to insure it at a highly inflated price.
While the bus deal is being probed, two drivers have been dismissed
on fraud charges. Four other drivers and an assistant sergeant-at-arms
were dismissed three years ago when they were found guilty by an internal
'Montessoris mushrooming like Chinese restaurants'
National policy for pre-schools coming
By Tania Fernando and Chandani KirindeThe number of pre-schools mushrooming around the country and their failure to maintain high standards is causing grave concern among educational authorities, parents and qualified pre-school teachers.
According to a survey carried out by authorities in the Western Province Education Department, there are over 2300 pre-schools, calling themselves Montessoris, AMIs, daycare centres, play-pens, etc. The actual numbers could be much higher, as boards advertising them can be seen down most lanes and roads and no proper statistics are available.
However, questions are being asked whether these institutions are giving the child the proper care and guidance that is needed during their formative years.
According to parents most of these pre-schools charge exorbitant rates but are more like care centres for the parents to leave their children. Most often these places are situated in the private premises of those who run them and children are frequently kept in confined spaces, where their movements are restricted.
The Sunday Times investigation revealed that most of these places were cramped and sometimes even without proper ventilation and with no garden space for the children to play in.
In most developed countries registering of such places is mandatory, so as to maintain proper standards. However in Sri Lanka it is on a voluntary basis and places that operate sans the stipulated standards can carry on regardless, more or less as a money spinner.
After many complaints, provincial educational departments are now attempting to register the pre-schools stipulating certain requirements such as 400 square feet area per 20 children, one teacher for every 20 students, proper toilet and water facilities and high standards of hygiene.
Those who fail to meet these requirements will not be registered but there is nothing that can be done to stop them from operating as they are privately owned, an official of the Western Province education office said.
The Department has instead started conducting seminars for pre-school teachers and the Women's Affairs Ministry has handed out guidelines on how to teach children of pre-school years to prepare them for school.
However it is only in the urban areas that pre-schools are available. In most rural areas, they area largely lacking. Hence programmes are underway to educate mothers so that they could provide a suitable environment within their homes for a child to develop his skills using raw materials available in the surroundings.
The lack of proper training for teachers is another area which is a matter for concern. Most teachers follow short courses and obtain so-called diplomas and then start running their own centres.
It is alleged that certain institutions hand out diplomas within a day following "crash" courses in child care.
The Education Ministry is now moving towards formulating a national policy for pre-schools which would incorporate standards, teacher training and a syllabus that would place emphasis on developing the child's physical as well as mental deportment and proper nutrition.
Educating parents is another area that the authorities are looking at so that they would take more care when admitting their children to a pre-school.
However, many teachers qualified in the handling of pre-school children in the age groups two and a half to five years say much needs to be done soon as it is in these formative years that children develop a great deal mentally.
Unfortunately, running pre-schools and day care centres have become more of a money spinner than about caring properly for children, according to Shanthi Wijesinghe, President of the Association of Montessori Directresses.
"Children learn various social skills at this age. Those who care for them must see they don't ruin the children's lives but help them develop to their full capacity," she said. It is essential for a person who has qualified as a pre-school teacher to also study child psychology, she added.
Several parents contacted by The Sunday Times spoke of their disappointment with the way their children were handled in pre-schools/Montessoris.
A Montessori teacher for more than 30 years, Sharmini de Zylva said the most sensitive period of a child's life was the pre-school years, therefore it is important for parents to ensure their children are enrolled in pre-schools which provide proper guidance.
"Teachers should have a commitment towards their job and love children. Without proper care the child's mental growth can be retarded", she said.Although there is a demand for pre-schools, the quality that is being offered is not up to expectactions, said Ms. Wijesinghe.
" Pre-schools should not be like Chinese restaurants cropping up all
over the place. They have a very important task to perform and those in
charge should realize the enormous responsibility on their shoulders when
they take on young children," Mrs.Wijesinghe said.
President Kumaratunga has issued this order under the PTA Act No. 48 of 1979, with effect from July 6 and appointed Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku as the Competent Authority.
Vehicle passes previously issued under the Emergency Regulations will now be issued under the PTA . Those who fail to comply with this request will be punished accordingly.
According to a statement issued by the Information Department, the areas
covered within the following borders fall into the high security zone.
They are Wellawatte Bridge, Hospital Road, Sri Saranakara Road, Pamankada
Road, Stafford road, High Level Road, Kirulapone, Elvitigala Mawatha, Kanatte
Roundabout, D. S. Senanayake Mawatha, Gnanartha Pradeepa Mawatha, Maradana
Road, Technical Junction, Olcott Mawatha, 1st Cross Street, Main Street,
Khan Clock Tower, N. H. M. Abdul Cader Mawatha and the area from Colombo
port to Wellawatte Bridge bordering the sea front.
By Ruwan WeerakoonIn a move allegedly sanctioned by a Deputy Minister, traders who were evicted from Pettah's World Market area are building makeshift shops on a land leased to a private firm by the Urban Development Authority.
An official of the private firm alleged the Fort Police had declined to act on their complaint, pointing to the involvment of powerful politicians. However, the Police had recorded a statement for future reference, he said.
According to the complaint made by the security guard of the property, about 100 people allegedly led by the deputy minister forcibly entered the land with bulldozers and building materials despite his plea that the land belonged to the private firm.
The company official said they obtained the land on lease from the UDA in the early 1980s to put up a 25-storey building. The project did not receive official approval as the proposed building would interrupt telecom signals from the nearby Sri Lanka Telecom headquarters. The company then agreed to put up a 15-storey building, but in the meantime the UDA took legal measures to retake the land and failed, the official claimed.
UDA officals, however, denied yesterday they had any involvment in the alleged forcible occupation of land by the traders.
Traders told The Sunday Times they thought the land belonged to a the
UDA and did not know anything about the private firm's connection.
Senior Lecturer in Physics at the Unversity of Colombo, Dr. S.R.D. Rosa, told The Sunday Times that although this change will not be made this year the possibility of it being made next year remains.
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Prof. Ms. Lalitha Mendis, stressed that if students were given a good grounding in Physics at the O/L stage, there would be no risk involved in making Physics an optional subject.
"This grounding would ensure that students will not be at a disadvantage," she said.
"I feel some degree of flexibility is good because all students who sit for exams will not gain entrance to the three faculties, and through this proposed change they will have other options available," Prof. Mendis said.
"The change will not be made this year," said National Education Commission Secretary, Prof. Arulpragasam.
"We have had discussions with members of the Medical and Engineering Faculties. They have not made a decision and we won't do anything without a consensus being reached. We will give sufficient notice before a change is made," he said.
Members of the Institute of Physics pointed out that in other countries Physics was an entry requirement to the Medical, Dental and Veterinary disciplines.
Recently however, the University Grants Commission and the Education Ministry had decided to consider Physics as an optional subject for admission to the Medical, Dental and Veterinary Faculties. According to the decision Biology and Chemistry become compulsory subjects and the third subject could be selected from a basket of subjects containing Physics, Combined Mathematics, Higher Mathematics, Economics, Business Studies, Geography and Political Science
We do not see any valid reason for integrating arts or commerce subjects
into the science curriculum, at the expense of Physics. We do not see this
as a constructive reform, said Institute of Physics members.
By Chandani KirindeThe Chairman of the Puttalam Urban Council has been found guilty of several charges levelled against him according to the interim report of the one-man commission that looked into allegations against him but officials said no action could be taken until the final report was out.
A senior official of the North Western Provincial Council said that in the interim report submitted to the Chief Minister of the NWP S.B.Nawinna, UC Chairman Abdul Baiz had been found guilty of several charges but they were unable to act on these initial findings.
He said the final report was likely to be handed in within a week or two and appropriate action would be taken after it was gazetted.
The official said that Mr. Baiz had requested that he be given a chance to appear before the commission before its conclusion as he had been unable to given evidence on several occasions when he had been summoned before it due to absence on personal grounds.
Mr. Baiz was sacked from the post of Chairman in March 2000 by Chief Minister Nawinna for his alleged involvement in the assault on a group of Audit Department officials who had visited the UC on official duties. He is also alleged to have misappropriated state funds.
However, soon after the general election in October last year, Mr. Baiz
was reinstated as the Chairman when the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC)
demanded his re-instatement as a condition for supporting the PA government.
Dr. Jayawardena has raised a privilege issue against the state owned Lake House, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.
He alleged that the state media had called him an LTTE spy tarnishing
his image and putting his life under threat.
VIP appeals to CEBThe recent power cuts imposed by the CEB have definitely affected all people.
But VIPs are making request to CEB officials to either reduce the power cuts or even do away with it on certain days, when they have their official functions.
The appeals have left the officials in a tight spot, where they now ask the VIPs to deal with the officers in their own area, to avoid any embarrassment.
Pray for emergency to be passed!Before the last general elections the late Minister Ashraff and Minister Fowzie were at loggerheads so much that references were made in sermons in mosques on Fridays during that time about bringing religion into politics and on to the streets.
Now a newspaper report on Thursday had the story that Minister Fowzie had asked Muslims to pray on Friday for the extension of the emergency to be passed in Parliament. Fortunately or unfortunately there was no debate as such on the emergency.
Muslims ask why should they pray every time the government is in a dilemma and that too when a minister makes an appeal. Is it to save the government or themselves?
Feeling blueOne time faithful confidante and now sidelined by his own party hierarchy a senior Cabinet minister is feeling blue. Last week a scribe wanting an appointment with him, had phoned his residence, where a very polite domestic had wanted him to call the minister late in the night promising him that the appointment will be given. But when the call was made in the night a harassed sounding aide replied that the appointment will not be given because, 'Amathy thuma hari upset eken inne'
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