Plus - Letters to the Editor

At least 30,000 state pensioners have died without receiving their dues

With the Budget 2011, state pensioners expected pension anomalies caused by salary increases for public servants, effective January 1, 2006, to be rectified, especially as such a promise is found in the Mahinda Chinthanaya (page 15).

However, state pensioners have been badly let down as no financial provision has been made to remove the anomalies. Worse still, with the five per cent increase granted to the public servants in Budget 2011, the existing anomalies have been further heightened.

At National Pensioners’ Day, on October 8, 2009, Wimal Weerawansa, the only invitee who attended (Cabinet Ministers who had confirmed their attendance were conspicuous by their absence – they were represented by their private secretaries or ministry officials), accepted the memorandum addressed to the President. Minister Weerawansa promised to hand over the memorandum to the President with a view to having the anomalies removed.

The then Prime Minister and the then Minister of Public Administration had told delegations from Pensioners’ Associations that action would be taken to remove the anomalies.

On January 14, 2010, before the last Presidential Election, some 5,000 state pensioners were invited to Temple Trees to meet the President, who gave an undertaking that the anomalies arising from the salary increase granted to public servants effective January 1, 2006 would be removed at the “next budget.”

But when a delegation from Pensioners’ Associations met Minister Wimal Werawansa to invite him to the Pensioners’ Walk and Rally to mark the National Pensioners’ Day on October 8th 2010, he said he would participate only if he could bring good tidings. He did attend and addressed the pensioners gathered in front of the Fort Railway Station after the “walk.” A large number of pensioners had departed by the time he arrived. Minister Weerawansa said steps would be taken to remove the existing pension anomalies.

However, the pensioners – many feeble and suffering ailments that afflict the elderly – who had hoped to receive their dues and die with their minds at peace – have been badly disappointed.

As at January 1, 2006, there ware around 450,000 pensioners who were affected by the pension anomaly. According to the Director General of Pensions, around 6,000 pensioners die every year. We can assume that at least 30,000 pensioners have died since 2006, and these 30,000 have died without receiving their dues.

To add insult to injury, the long-serving Secretary to the Treasury, attempted to dump the issue by stating that with the increase in pensions provided for in Budget 2011, the existing pension anomalies have been removed.

What a misleading statement that was, and coming from the Secretary to the Treasury! I challenge the Secretary to the Treasury to support his contention with facts and figures.

I appeal to the President to make amends, even at this late stage.

Upali S. Jayasekera Vice-President, All-Ceylon Pensioners’ Society

Why are senior citizens treated so badly?

Time and again we read about the plight of senior citizens and how badly they are treated by the authorities. The interest rates in the banks are so low that their life savings are not sufficient to get a reasonable income to meet their daily needs like food, clothing and housing. Drugs are also so expensive that the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) discount hardly helps in solving the problem. They cannot meet their daily expenses.

Politicians on the other hand have many concessions. Even the Senior members have many privileges without much responsibility to the people. Can the authorities please work out a reasonable plan to alleviate the suffering group who have given their best to the country?

One must not forget they have not lost their mind as yet, and it is the bounden duty of any person of authority of any religion or party to help these people who will not beg, steal or go behind others for help.

S.C. Moraes, Negombo

Galle Matara track: Hope safety comes before speed

The Galle Matara rail track was opened few days back, which is pretty good timing considering the magnitude of the job.

I understand that on this new track the trains are capable of going much faster, which means that the individual track pieces which are about 10 metres long are welded together to form pieces which are about 300 metres long. This will get rid of the clickety- click noise which comes from the gaps left between rails in the old system.

The new track

The 300 metre-long pieces which are usually fabricated in a shop are brought to the site and welded to form the track, which is generally called a continuous welded rail (CWR).The advantage of the CWR is that it has less maintenance and usually can carry bigger loads at faster speeds. The usual welding methods are Flash Butt welding or Thermite Welding.

Since I live close to the rail track one day I thought that I should inspect some of the weldings, and to my horror I saw a lot of under cut (side cut for Americans). Now I know that C.G.R or the Sri Lanka Institute of Standards does not have any welding codes - these weldings would have been interpreted according to an Indian standard ( I would like to know which).

My only hope is that that the under cut combined with fatigue will not result in a catastrophic failure -because if it does several hundreds of people will die. I hope our engineers know about the bridge in South Korea which gave way because of poor welding. I hope it does not happen in this country because everybody responsible will go scot-free whereas in any developed country they will be spending some quality time behind bars.

L.C. De Silva, Via email

Rulers, ruled and rumbles of discontent outside our shores

‘Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own, my native land…?’

Reflecting upon the theme of patriotism on Independence Day, I recalled these stirring opening lines of the short, yet succinct poem of that true Scottish patriot, Walter Scott. In this country, at a time when we hear from our leaders the call for unquesioning loyalty to the Head of State and the government in power, it is worth reflecting on the fact that in Scott’s poem the emphasis is on loyalty to the land of a person’s birth. Writing at a time in history when all powerful monarchs ruled throughout the world, there is not a single mention of Kings and Queens.

Scott clearly implied that a true patriot’s loyalty was primarily to the land of one’s birth. Loyalty to the monarch depended on how well the ruler ruled the land, and that function was the sole responsibility of the Head of State, his advisers and others in the ruling party close to him. While it is only natural that a Head of State would desire to have the loyalty of the people of the land, undue emphasis on loyalty to the Head, to the neglect of loyalty to the country as a whole, can lead to a dangerous situation which militates against the welfare of the land and its people.

Such a call inevitably leads to the creation of a ‘court’ packed with sycophantic and fawning courtiers and courtesans, who dare not question any action of the ruler, which might lead to loss of favour with the crown. History has shown, over and over again, that a wise ruler always is on guard to ensure that his close advisers and associates are not mere ‘yes’ men and women. An unknown enemy within, masquerading as a friend, a friend merely for personal advancement, is far more dangerous than the known opponent outside the palace gates.

Furthermore, if a man’s patriotism is judged by how hard he strives to please the leader, then it can lead to the perilous situation where the members of the ruling party compete with each other for the leader’s favour by bending lower and lower, in mindless obeisance and servility. A ruler’s hand is strengthened, if he is surrounded by courageous advisers who do not fail to question, in all good faith, any action of the ruler, which could be a danger to the welfare of the land and the mass of the people. Worse still, this type of ‘patriotism’ could lead to supporters, including goons and criminals, indulging in blatant acts of lawlessness, to demonstrate their loyalty to their chief. This sort of lawlessness is further encouraged, if law enforcing officers feel that taking action against law-breaking government supporters could lead to these conscientious officers being by-passed (if not punished) in favour of those who are prepared to look the other way.

The country is in a very unhappy, disaster burdened situation these days, when the very elements are ranged against those responsible for good governance. While no one in his senses expects the Head of State to control the elements, the people have the right to expect the rulers to control what is in their power to control, and for which they were elected into power. Foremost among these expectations is the urgent action of a genuine attempt to ensure –whatever the constraints- that law and order are maintained and public servants, the police and judiciary in particular, understand unambiguously, that they are the servants of the public and not the slaves of the politicians.

These public servants are the guardians of the right to freedom of every law-abiding citizen regardless of whether he is a government supporter or not. While this is no time for finger-pointing and cheap political gimmicks either in the quest to remain in power or wrest power, at any cost to the country, rulers, when asking and expecting the ruled to think of their country and to make necessary sacrifices and help improve matters in the land of their birth, must keep in mind that the large majority of the ruled will willingly make sacrifices, provided, and only if, the ruled set an example, not by lofty words and unrealistic promises, but by deeds.

Finally, it is in the interest of rulers and ruled, to ponder seriously, the turbulence that at this very moment is occurring outside our shores, however far removed the circumstances in those parts may be. Affected leaders, entrenched for years in what they thought were secure seats of power, must be ruing the day they forgot the lessons of history and carried on regardless of the growing rumbles of discontent amongst their peoples.

Mark Amerasinghe, Kandy

Campaigning for candidature for a non- permanent seat in the UN Security Council

I do not know why since 1961, Sri Lanka has not been a non-permanent member in the United Nations Security Council. Sri Lanka has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council only once, i.e. from 1960 to 1961. Compare this with the other SAARC countries, if I am correct, India has been on the Security Council six times, Pakistan four times and even Nepal twice.

According to reliable sources, Sri Lanka had tried several times since 1961, but had invariably withdrawn in favour of either India or Pakistan and in 1995, in favour of South Korea. It was reported that Sri Lanka withdrew in favour of South Korea after accepting the promise of 10,000 jobs for Sri Lankans in that country.

The offer of 10,000 jobs would have been attractive at that time when there was unemployment but serving a two-year term on the Security Council would have brought Sri Lanka far more significant and valuable benefits especially during the 30-year war with LTTE terrorists.

Since then, I do not think Sri Lanka had ever announced its candidature and started a campaign. It is high time that Sri Lanka should immediately announce its candidature and mount a campaign when the next non-permanent Security Council seat for South Asia is vacant as it would be advantageous for us especially when there is a panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General to probe accountability issues in our country during the end of the separatist war in May 2009.

C.M. De Silva, Ratmalana

Wanted urgently: An able High Commissioner for Mission in UK

The post of High Commissioner Sri Lanka Mission in UK remains vacant since the “Oxford Fiasco” where the President suffered an ignominious humiliation and had to return home with the rest of his entourage in precipitous haste. The former High Commissioner, Justice Jayasinghe left for a UN assignment after disclaiming all responsibility (in the media) for the ill fated visit which according to him was against his advice and that of the SLFP London Branch.

However, this disastrous visit went ahead with the consultation and support of the Foreign Ministry Officials who together with a coterie of young inexperienced Sri Lankan students in Oxford organized the visit. The President got a very bad press from the interview arranged with Daily Telegraph by an ex-High Commissioner (Ms. Kshenuka Seneviratne) now in Geneva who was flown down to London to organize the arrangements with the Foreign Ministry official Deputy (Mr. Amza) in the Sri Lanka Mission in London.

These bureaucrats also could not get any worthwhile appointments for the President of Sri Lanka with his counterparts. The President was consigned to meet with some petty Commonwealth officials and unimportant parliamentarians well below the dignity for a Head of State. All this is very shameful for us Sri Lankans in the UK to behold.

D.K.F. Jayathila, London

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