Letters to the Editor


Boards, bonuses – We’re bamboozled
The country is in the throes of chaos and confusion over the various Boards and Corporations being in the red. This has resulted in an unconscionable burden being placed on the hapless people. On reflection, one is left in serious doubt whether all the resulting government exertions and efforts are directed to recoup the failing institutions or to salvage a government teetering on the brink of a financial tangle.

All the hosannas on receiving about Rs. 3 billion aid mainly for tsunami reconstruction after all the pomp and pageantry appear incongruous, when compared with the Rs. 4.5 billion offered to the last government even without any natural calamity occurring.

It was not very long ago, when in fact these Boards and Corporations were not encumbered by political pressures and were making large profits. It is an open secret that these institutions have now fallen into crisis due mainly to political interference and panjandrums. Hence it is clear that any future reforms, which are politically motivated and activated are doomed to fail, further exacerbating the people's travails.

The President claims that expeditious reforms are inevitable and imperative, in order to prevent the total collapse of the two State Banks. A simple solution would be for the government to at least pay up all the colossal outstanding arrears accrued by its various departments etc. so that the Boards and Corporations could then service a considerable part of its own Bank commitments.

In fact, it does not appear that the government is in such dire financial straits. It is impossible to imagine how the government finds the massive funds to send shoals of parliamentarians and their coteries roaming round the globe. Surely a part of this money could have been channelled to settle at least some of its outstanding debts. Possibly the people become priorities only on election platforms.

In addition the situation is further compounded because the Boards and Corporations are riddled with inefficiency, corruption, profligacy etc. All the governments of the recent past, have contributed to this sorry state by saturating these institutions from top to bottom with political stooges and henchmen. Ministers turn a blind eye for obvious reasons. Hence to further fragment the existing institutions will only aggravate this parlous state. Of course, they will no doubt open out more and more avenues for further political intrusions and infiltrations.

There is a possible way of rejuvenating these sick institutions. These should be given over to a staff of competent and capable people to administer, devoid of any political interference and allowed to take independent decisions.

There are some other aspects that are usually hidden from the public that merit consideration. The escalating prices of public utilities are certainly not solely due to the alleged increase in fuel prices etc. No government has ever purchased oil at the prices blazoned out on public platforms (the Central Bank reports confirm this). These price increases only help the government. It will in any case continue not to pay either its existing arrears or even the new bills, but will certainly benefit by the enhanced taxation that will accrue from the price hikes.

Let us consider a specific example. The National Water Supply and Drainage Board had gone to the extent of providing each consumer with details of a "Revised Tariff". They had gone further to work out some examples, indicating how a customer could even work out his own impending bill. What relief and consolation that will give the customer is hard to imagine except possibly to realize how much further he is being diddled and exploited. But the shameless deception perpetrated on the customer is that nowhere in their worked examples have they shown that the customer will be levied a further 10% as the VAT. This is all the more culpable because even a menu-card in on ordinary hotel specifically mentions this tax. The sum and substance of this mathematical skulduggery is that the customer will now have to pay almost double the earlier bill (a 100% increase).

It is no secret that although the Water Board claims that it is in financial straits, it was nevertheless able to pay a massive year-end bonus to each of its employees. From where did the Board garner this colossal sum of money? Was it from fleecing that customer or from a loan from a Bank? Could these be accepted as symptoms of an institution in dire financial depths. One is now led to believe that the new price hikes could as well be to ensure a higher bonus grant at the end of this year as well. The government remains totally mute on all this.

The Water Board has also resorted to another ruse. This is certainly taking place in the Maharagama sector. The water supply is stopped at various times of the day unannounced. When it is subsequently released a vast quantity of air also gushes in. This air also activates the water meter. In fact the spluttering and hissing of the water coming into the emptied toilet cistern can be heard round the house. Earlier the people paid only for the supply of plain water, now they have to pay higher rates for water-cum-air. Such crass exploitation is hard to match.

Devendra Maharagama

Where’s the compassion?
How is it possible that Janaraja, the temple tusker, was commandeered to take part in a perahera, when he was suffering from ear and foot infection? If he was sick he should have been given medicine and made to rest until recovery, not squeezed into fancy dress, shoved into a long-winding procession, with a casket perched precariously atop, and goaded to walk on his damaged feet with flashing lights irritating his eyes and blasting firecrackers deafening his already sick ears.

We insist that the new animal welfare regulations being drafted should include a legally binding provision of a welfare/medical scheme for these hapless animals, including the temple elephants, who are all hired out. Something of what they earn so laboriously should be spent on their comfort. Evidently, Janaraja was in silent pain, until he went berserk.

To force a sick elephant into a perahera and then subdue his resultant revolt with seven mahouts armed with whips, chains and we do not know what else, smacks of rank violation of the Buddha's call for compassion towards all living beings.

Prema Ranawaka-Das Moratuwa

Cracking prices!
The price of eggs before the tsunami was Rs. 4.50. After the tsunami, most people stopped eating fish for reasons best known to them. The poultry producers seized this opportunity to raise the price of eggs to Rs. 9.50 and dealt a heavy blow to the consumers who were already burdened with a high cost of living.

The poultry farmers even forced traders to increase the price of poultry meat products, for which the traders showed their disapproval by demonstrating against their decision.

If asked, the poultry producers would justify the price increase by using economic jargon in relation to supply and demand. I appeal to the relevant minister to import eggs from India to give some relief to the consumer.

P.A. Binduhewna Panadura

Get the much needed wheels moving
The Minister of Transport, Felix Perera's proposed school bus service comes as welcome news. This news was relayed over T.V. and radio a month ago, but has still not been implemented. I would suggest that this particular bus service be extended to the suburbs as well and not only to Colombo.

Overloading of passengers without any breathing space, footboard travelling and speeding by reckless drivers are all part of the problems students and other passengers face.

J.M. Opatha Ekala

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