The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka » News Official website of the Sunday Times Newspaper in Sri Lanka Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:33:49 +0000 en hourly 1 Zeroing on Z- score fiasco Sat, 30 Jun 2012 17:46:22 +0000 Pubudu The Z-score calculation for university admission is once again in the spotlight following last week’s Supreme Court decision, with the new development bringing fresh hope to some students and confusion to others while education authorities are embroiled in a blame game.

Uncertain future: Students who fear that the revision of the Z- score will hinder their admission to University read leaflets pertaining to A Level revision classes last morning. Pic by Indika Handuwala

Uncertain future: Students who fear that the revision of the Z- score will hinder their admission to University read leaflets pertaining to A Level revision classes last morning. Pic by Indika Handuwala

The Supreme Court ordered the University Grants Commission (UGC) to annul the 2011 G.C.E. Advanced Level examination Z-score calculation and recalculate for the old and new syllabus separately.

The 2011 calculation was done according to a pooling formula for the first time since the Z score was introduced, with results of the both syllabuses being merged and calculated.
In 2001 Peradeniya University senior Professor of Statistics R.O. Thattil and a panel of experts introduced the Z-score formula for university admission.

“When the new calculation was introduced, I pointed out that there will be issues in merging results of two syllabuses and the Z-score marks will be erroneous.

It is incorrect to put two populations together; it’s like adding biology and history. Every single paper had two syllabuses, both had a different number of questions and the marks allocated have a difference too,” Prof. Thattil told the Sunday Times.

He said despite concerns, the UGC went ahead with the new formula and even after a number of complaints, education authorities did not consider going for a re-calculation. “The SC order comes as a relief especially to students. This issue could have been solved earlier if the experts panel had convinced the authorities that there was a need to re-calculate,” he said.
In 2011, 243,876 students sat the Advanced Level examination with 144,341 from the new syllabus and 99,535 from the old.

The Examinations Department received the highest number of re-scrutiny applications, 148,168 (57 percent) for A/Level this year. Following the SC order that called for separate re-calculation, the re-scrutinised A/Level results of 2725 students changed. Claiming that the UGC has to accept responsibility for causing this blunder and inconveniencing the students, Prof.Thattil said he had received a request last week from the Higher Education Ministry Secretary seeking his assistance regarding the formula.
Meanwhile, educationist and former Dean of Colombo University’s Faculty of Education, Prof. S.Chandrasekaran said it was unfortunate that there were so many cases of fundamental rights violations in the field of education.  “From school admissions, to the Ordinary Level and Advanced Level exams there have been many instances where the Supreme Court had to get involved.

Education authorities should be more responsible in their decisions,” he said.On Tuesday (26), a news conference was held at the Higher Education Ministry by a panel comprising Higher Education Minister S.B.Dissanayake, UGC Chairman Professor Gamini Samaranayake and Prof.Sarath Kulatunge, representing the experts who came up with the 2011 formula for the A Level results.

Minister Dissanayake said the re-calculation will take place according to the court order but refused to comment whether the formula used for the 2011 A Level examination was a failure.Prof. Samaranayake said legal assistance will be sought to clarify certain areas of the judgment, especially with regard to which  authority was responsible.

S. B. Dissanayake and Prof. Samaranayake at the news conference

Prof. Kulatunge said the panel would stand by its formula and that both, pooling of the two syllabuses and separate methods were tried out.When contacted by the Sunday Times to explain the 2011 Z-score formula combining both A Level syllabuses he refused to comment stating that it was based on scientific evidence and to minimise injustices to students.

“We respect the SC decision and now that the panel has been dissolved there is no need to explain more on it. But it has been a proven method,” Prof. Kulatunge said.The five member panel of the 2011 Z-score formula included senior professors and heads of departments of statistics from the universities of Colombo, Kelaniya, Moratuwa and Sri Jayawardhanapura.

Despite opposition parties calling for the resignation of Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake and Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena their portfolios over the 2011 Z-score fiasco, both ministers have not taken the responsibility over the issue.Minister Gunawardena said that neither he nor the Examinations Commissioner was responsible as the Exams Department issued the results based on the formula prepared by the UGC, coming under the Higher Education Ministry. Minister Dissanayake also said he need not resign, as Z-scores will be released within a month’s time and students will enter university in October as in previous years.

Meanwhile, students who have been waiting for almost a year to gain admission to universities accuse the education and higher education ministries for being inconsiderate of their future.Ranjula Herath (19) who sat for the A/L’s last year in the commerce stream charged that it was a waste of time.

Those who had good ranks are sure of entering university. But those who are on the border are uncertain of their future she said, adding students who obtained medium-level scores did not apply to university but now with the re-calculation they are not sure whether they will be eligible for university admission.

“I started CIMA and also a part time job while awaiting university admission. But we were not called for the leadership training that was scheduled to begin in  May,”she said.

Christjit Xavier (19) sat for the A/L’s in the Bio stream offering Biology, Physics and Chemistry as subjects.
“I obtained 2 A’s and a B and was expecting to enter the Medical Faculty. Now I’m worried about the Z-score and district rank,” he said adding that many of his colleagues have applied for scholarships offered by India and Bangladesh.

“Even to apply for scholarships we need the ranks and this mess created by education authorities has caused a lot of difficulty to students,” he said.

Zahrah Rizwan(19) sat for the A/L’s in the Arts stream. “At the beginning I was really enthusiastic about getting into university. I applied to Colombo, Kelaniya and J’pura universities. But now I don’t know whether the ranks will change,”she said.

National Institute of Mental Health Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Harischandra Gambheera said these situations can cause a high level of stress among students, especially in a competitive university entrance system.

How the Z-score is calculated

  • The average marks (mean) of each subject is obtained by dividing the total number of marks by the number of candidates.
  • Then the average marks (mean) is subtracted from each student’s marks on each subject.
  • This is divided by the ‘standard deviation,’ a widely used measure of variability.
  • Then the Z-score for each subject by a student is obtained.
  • This figure is totalled and divided by the number of subjects (three) to arrive at the Z-score.
  • The results obtained by each candidate are then placed on a district  and island-wide ranking.
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Swiss francs 85m invested in Swiss banks by Sri Lankans last year Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:20:46 +0000 Pubudu Investments by Sri Lankan individuals, companies or the Sri Lankan government in secret Swiss accounts totalled more than 85 million Swiss francs (CHF) in 2011 while liabilities listed against Sri Lanka were 44 million in the same year, official data from the Swiss National Bank (SNB) show.

The Swiss franc is higher or equal in value against the US dollar (1CHF = 1.048 US$). SNB is Switzerland’s central bank. However it doesn’t provide details of who owns these assets or liabilities and has listed these data under each country. Swiss secrecy laws protect the identity of the investor/debtor, which is among a host of reasons why much black money or ‘dirty’ money is believed to be stashed by corrupt governments, individuals or businesspersons.

Assets and liabilities of more than 200 countries are listed from 2002 to 2011, in SNB’s latest 2011 annual report.
In 2002, Sri Lanka’s assets in all Swiss banks totalled 22.9 million CHF, 2003 – 34.7 million, 2004 – 105.5 million, 2005 – 177.6 million, 2006 – 56.5 million, 2007 – 123.5 million, 2008 – 104.8 million, 2009 – 87.5 million and 2010 – 111.3 million.
Under this category, most of the investments were made in savings accounts.

Liabilities were 2002 – 36.3 million, 2003 – 84 million, 2004 – 205.4 million, 2005 – 206.2 million, 2006 – 166.8 million, 2007 – 171.4 million, 2008 – 53.1 million, 2009 – 50.7 million and 2010 – 51.9 million.The figures also showed that Sri Lankan banks had invested CHF 12.3 million, 12.3, 24.2, 78.4, 41.5, 94.1, 60.6, 82.1, 85.7, and 77.7 from 2002 to 2011.
In comparison, Bangladesh with a larger population (about 150 million) and wealthier per capita group than Sri Lanka had lesser investments.

Its highest asset-year was 2005 – CHF 94.4 million and lowest in 2006 – CHF 22.2 million. Its liabilities were, however, as high as Sri Lanka at CHF 243 million in 2007.

It was unclear to some local bankers who analysed the data as to whether each annual figure reflected a carry-forward amount from the previous year or whether each year was a separate, new investment figure. If it was the latter, investments under Sri Lanka would total 910.3 million (for the past 10 years) while liabilities would total 1.07 billion.

Bankers also questioned as to whether the Central Bank and its Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) is aware of the SNB annual report and whether action is being taken. Central Bank officials were not available for comment.
Here is the SNB web link with the details of assets and liabilities of all countries:

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US expresses concern over raid on website office Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:20:02 +0000 Pubudu The United States yesterday reiterated its concern over what it called “the blocking of news websites, intimidation and disappearance of journalists”.

Its response came in the wake of the Criminal Investigations Department’s raid on the office of the Sri Lanka Mirror and Lanka X news. The US embassy said it was closely following the case, including the arrest of nine individuals.
An embassy statement said:

“The United States believes that an uncensored and independent media available to all citizens is an indispensable part of any vibrant democracy and we call for an end to the harassment of these and all other journalists.”
Colombo Additional Magistrate Kosala Senadheera, in the meantime, yesterday, released on police bail eight suspects who are alleged to have defamed the President.

The CID produced the suspects who had been arrested on Friday evening. A detective said the suspects had violated Section 118 of the Penal Code dealing with the publication of articles defamatory of the President and Section 120 of the Penal Code that caused public disaffection of the President and higher authorities.

Counsel Saliya Pieris with Upul Kumarapperuma appearing for the suspects told court that Section 118 of the Penal Code had been repealed by  Act No. 12 of 2002 ten years ago. Hence, the counsel told court the suspects could not be arrested under that provision of the law and sought their release on bail.

The court asked the CID whether there had been a public outcry in respect of the websites. The CID replied there was no such public outcry as yet.On Friday, more than 20 CID officers raided the offices of Sri Lanka Mirror and Lanka X news located at Ethulkotte, arrested nine persons and seized computers and documents. However later one person was released as she was the teamaker for the staff.

“It is an undemocratic move to raid the website office as no offence had been committed,” UNP Communications Chief Mangala Samaraweera told the Sunday Times.

Meanwhile, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) in a statement claimed that the two websites had continuously published false information targeting prominent people, with the objective of ”misguiding the general public.”

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Rs. 600m in public funds for PC polls Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:18:57 +0000 Pubudu About Rs. 600 million in public funds will be spent for the elections to the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa provincial councils, a elections official said as various parties were working out their nomination lists.

Meanwhile, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said he would meet officials on Wednesday to discuss arrangements for the polls which are likely to be held on September 1, 8 or 15.

“If we receive a large number of nominations we will have to opt for the last date – September 15, as it will involve more work,” he said.

The three PCs were dissolved at midnight on Wednesday. The term of the EPC was due to end in May next year while the terms of the NCP and Sabaragamuwa councils were to end in August. Nominations for the three councils will be received from July 12 to 19.

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Calamity in rice bowl if drought continues Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:18:29 +0000 Pubudu Sri Lanka’s paddy production will be severely affected and thousands of farming families in the North-Central, North-Western and Eastern Provinces may lose their livelihood if the drought continues for another week, Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera warned yesterday.

One of the worst droughts in recent history has affected hundreds of thousands of people and threatens to destroy more than 150,000 acres of paddy and other crops. Picture shows a tragic scene in the Puttalam District where a drought-stricken mother and a child accompanied by their thirsty dog, carrying some water from far away to meet their urgent needs. Pic by Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe

He said that at present drinking water facilities were being provided to people in those areas as it was the most urgent need but government assistance would have to be increased if the drought did not end.

“We will have to give compensation and provide dry rations to the people if there is no rain. The money for this will have to come from the Treasury,” the minister said.

It is feared that paddy and other crops in more than 150,000 acres will be destroyed due to the drought.  The areas worst affected are those which get water from the Kotmale and Polgolla reservoirs.

Many of the smaller tanks in the North-Central and the Eastern Provinces have also run dry.President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed a special committee comprising officials of five ministries to liaise with farmer societies and provide necessary relief to those affected by the drought.

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Embassy worker in project to boost tourism Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:18:03 +0000 Pubudu An investment project to enhance tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka by 25 per cent is being promoted by a worker of the country’s embassy in Washington.

Steen Hedges, who handles public relations at the Sri Lanka mission, has teamed up with Michael Lutzky to be partners of Sapphire Travel Pvt Ltd.

They made their debut as a ‘foreign investor’ at Swiss-Sri Lanka Business and Investment Forum held in Geneva and Zurich on June 11 and 12.

The events were organised by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Berlin, Germany in co-ordination with the Swiss Asian Chamber of Commerce in Switzerland. The initiative, an embassy statement said, was to “showcase Sri Lanka’s investment and trade potentials to Swiss-based industrialists, financial houses and businessmen after the end of the long conflict in the island.”
Other reports from Washington say the travel firm was also planning to venture into other fields. One such deal, the Sunday Times learns, is the lease of Boeing aircraft for SriLankan Airlines. The same reports say besides the two partners, some prominent Sri Lankans were also behind the travel venture.

Last year, some 25,000 US tourists visited Sri Lanka as against 19,000 in 2010. This is in marked contrast to some 300,000 US tourists arriving in India.

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UPC a joke; no proper meetings Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:17:17 +0000 Pubudu Uva Governor Nanda Mathew has written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to intervene to get the councilors to attend meetings of the Uva Provincial Council after ten meetings this year ended abruptly due to the lack of a quorum or business.
Governor Mathew told the Sunday Times he wrote to the President after meetings of the council on Thursday and Friday ended almost as soon as they began as there was no quorum. When the council met on Friday, there were only two members present, the presiding member and a ruling party councillor.

“At least on ten occasions this year, the UPC has had no sittings. This was the case last year as well,” the Governor lamented.
He said he had brought the matter to the attention of the Chief Minister Shasheendra Rajapaksa on two occasions but to no avail. The Governor said he was informed that many of the councillors were abroad last week but absenteeism among PC members in the UPC was a common practice. “Council meetings are held only for four days a month and even on those days most members are absent,” he said.
There are 34 members in the UPC, 27 from the UPFA and seven from the UNP. The quorum is 12.

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Fuel purchase: Billion-rupee racket or monumental mistake at CPC? Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:16:46 +0000 Pubudu Despite persistent media exposures particularly in the Sunday Times of tender irregularities at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the crisis over the procurement of petroleum products continues, sources said.In the latest allegedly irregular tender, a fuel oil purchase contract that had been extended for six months has been worked out in such a way that the country stands to lose more than Rs. 1 billion, the source said.

It is alleged that one payment has already been made for the first shipment and for the second, the letter of credit (LC), has already been opened with the vessel carrying the cargo due yesterday.

Fujairah Petroleum Co. had contracted with the CPC to supply four cargoes of low sulphur fuel oil (LSFO) on a six-month term contract of 35 to 40,0000 tons per shipment.

The price quoted at the tender which closed on September 2 last year was as follows:

“Singapore Platts Low Sulphur Fuel oil price +$54 per ton”.
Upon completion of the contract, it was extended by six months on the same price formula as approved by the Cabinet.
However in the renewed contract, the price formula has been amended adding a new clause.
The amended price formula is as follows: “Singapore Platts Low Sulphur Fuel oil price +$54 per ton. “Low Sulphur Fuel oil price means High Sulphur Fuel Oil Price plus US$ 54 per ton.”

The sources said that, by the said wording, as stated in the contract, the CPC would be paying an additional $54 per ton for ‘High Sulphur Fuel Oil’ which would be double the earlier price.

The extra payment for a shipment of 40,000 metric tons is about US$ 1.88 million or Rs. 200 million. For four shipments the loss would be a billion rupees, the sources said.

Petroleum industry sources alleged that Fujairah Petroleum Co. was only a front to show that it was a government-to-government to contract, but the party behind the deal was a company that had been blacklisted by the CPC previously and reinstated during the recent past upon payment of US$ 200,000.

When contacted, CPC officials said the matter was resolved but refused to give details.

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US GSP to continue Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:03:08 +0000 Pubudu Sri Lanka would continue to enjoy the US Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) concession without any change in trade benefits, due to the significant steps taken by the Sri Lanka government to improve its workers’ rights environment, United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.

The action follows an interagency review of a petition filed by the AFL-CIO in 2008, alleging shortcomings in Sri Lanka’s recognition of workers’ rights.

“The closure of the GSP country practice review of Sri Lanka was based on the Sri Lanka government’s noteworthy efforts to address workers’ rights issues over the last few years,” Ambassador Kirk was quoted in a press release by the US Embassy.
He said this demonstrates that GSP remains an effective tool for engaging GSP beneficiary countries on workers’ rights.
The US Embassy in Colombo said that the US and the Sri Lanka government will continue to engage on workers’ rights issues in the newly Established Labor Affairs Committee of the United States-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Council.

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Dengue eradication programme hampered by uncollected garbage Sat, 30 Jun 2012 19:02:47 +0000 Pubudu With the beginning of the National Dengue month from June 25 to July 24, Health authorities have commenced dengue eradication programmes island-wide, but failure to collect garbage by local bodies, have led to the breeding of mosquitoes.
“This is the main concern of Health authorities and the public who are extremely worried when it comes to removal of garbage. It is the responsibility of local governments in order to control the dengue menace,” said Health Ministry Secretary Dr Ravindra Ruberu, in an interview with the Sunday Times.

He said local governments should take measures to remove garbage, especially from open dumps where discarded containers hold water even during intermittent rains.According to him, this was discussed at the Presidential Task Force emergency meeting where it was suggested to provide financial allocations for garbage removal and hiring more manpower for it.

Dengue fever has claimed close to 80 lives this year, and about 15,000 cases, according to data provided by State hospitals. The number is believed to be even higher, as cases reported to private hospitals are not included in the Health Ministry data.
Dr. Ruberu said the condition is serious in the Western province where 50% of the total number of cases is reported. Colombo district leads with 27 deaths and 3,178 cases, followed by Gampaha district with 14 deaths and 2,207 cases.
Following a request by the Health Ministry, this week, the Defence Ministry deployed hundreds of military personnel island-wide to clear identified mosquito breeding places, garbage dumps, abandoned lands and blocked drains, and assist Health officers in dengue control programmes.

The Health Ministry also has made it compulsory for all schools to allocate one hour every Friday to clean up their surrounding environments. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) has launched campaigns to raise awareness among the public on the dengue epidemic. The Red Cross is also deploying volunteers to mosquito prone areas and to launch cleaning campaigns. According to the Mosquito Breeding Prevention Act, a person responsible for maintaining mosquito breeding grounds, is liable to a fine of Rs 50,000, and/or six-months imprisonment.

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