There are 72,000 private sector employees who have so far contributed around Rs. 165 billion to the Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF). Yet, the Minister of Labour and Labour Relations has no legal powers to appoint a member to the ETF Board, the governing body that administers the fund which was created in March 1981. Now, President [...]


Major changes to ETF Act


There are 72,000 private sector employees who have so far contributed around Rs. 165 billion to the Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF). Yet, the Minister of Labour and Labour Relations has no legal powers to appoint a member to the ETF Board, the governing body that administers the fund which was created in March 1981.

Now, President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is also the Minister of Finance and Planning wants to amend the ETF Act to enable the Labour Minister to appoint a nominee.  Such amendments will also include a provision to empower the ETF Board to obtain relevant information from other sources such as Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Department of Inland Revenue or any other relevant institution. Provision is also to be made to give “cognisance to written or oral evidence given at an inquiry already held by the ETF Board.”

Other amendments Rajapaksa wants to make are to change the term “migrant worker” to migrant employee” in order “to attribute greater dignity.”
Among some of the other changes:

Monthly contribution by a self-employed person to the ETF, be based on multiples of Rs 50. At present it is based on multiples of Rs 25.

At present if a self-employed person does not send his ETF contribution to the ETF governing board “for three consecutive months or for an aggregate of five months within a year,” he will not be entitled to interest/dividend for that year. This is to be changed to five consecutive months or for a total of nine months within a calendar year.

Impose terms of imprisonment or fines for employers who default on ETF payments.

The term “Employer” is proposed to be redefined to give a broader meaning. It will include a director or a principal officer of a company or body of persons or corporate body, or partner of a partnership, or member of an office bearer of an unincorporated body during the period in respect of which contributions to the ETF is payable

Tele-drama shock at Education Ministry
The Ministry of Education is the state arm that ensures the working of schools and is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring discipline.
However, who disciplines those at the Ministry? The question comes to the fore after tales of woe from the people who call over. They include those come there for certification of their educational documents, teacher transfers and a multitude of other tasks.

This week, a resident from Ratnapura arrived in Colombo early morning. When she went to the Ministry, she was told that the person responsible for attending to her work was not available at that moment. The thought of having to make another trip worried her. She asked when the officer would be available.
The answer came as a rude shock. He was very much in the Ministry but was in the rest room. The reason? Catching up on a tele-drama series missed the previous night.

Re-runs of such nightly tele-dramas are telecast the following morning. So the television set at the rest room draws a good turn out every day, said an official who did not wish to be named.

Controversial firm gets massive coast project
A controversial Scandinavian firm and a local group have won a multi-billion rupee project to “protect and develop” the coastline from south of the Colombo Port to Mount Lavinia.

The firm in question, insiders say, is to soon receive “strategic enterprise” status with a number of attractive tax concessions.
The foreign company was embroiled in a kickback scandal after it was alleged to have bribed officials on a major excavation project.

JEDB land for Army
The Janatha Estate Development Board will sell ten acres of an estate land in Kumbukkana in Moneragala to the Sri Lanka Army.
According to Dayasritha Tissera, Minister of State Resources and Enterprise Development, the land is for the setting up of the 121 Brigade Headquarters.

Minister to flush out North-East toilet crisis
Resettlement Minister Gunaratne Weerakoon has made a somewhat startling revelation to his colleagues — 39,823 families re-settled or to be re-settled in the North and East do not have access to sanitary facilities.
He says that more than Rs 2.1 billion would be made available from his Ministry in two different instalments in 2015 and 2016 to construct 39,823 toilet units for them.

University for sailors

The Government is to construct a three billion rupee Ocean University in Ambalantota (Hambantota District) to provide degree courses for youth in nautical activity.

A 45 acre plot of state land has been allocated near the Kalamatiya sanctuary for this purpose. The university will come under the purview of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development.

IGP, Army chief scared  to give interviews
Cutting through bureaucratic red tape has been a problem for Sri Lankan journalists but with the advent of the official spokesmen/spokespersons, gaining direct access to even senior officials has become near impossible.  This includes the head of the Sri Lanka Police Department — the Inspector General of Police (IGP) – and the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army.

The Sunday Times made a request for an interview with the IGP on March 11 following which we were told permission to grant the interview would have to come from the Ministry of Law and Order. Such permission was granted by a letter dated March 13, a copy of which was sent to the IGPs office. This was followed up by numerous calls to the IGP’s office, all of which were met with the same response.

“His diary is full. It’s been more than two and half months and even at the end of this week, the response was the same: “His diary is full” that there is no time for an interview. Similarly this week, the Sunday Times sent out a written request to the office of the Commander of the Army requesting for an interview with details of what the subject matter would be.

On receipt of the letter, a call from his office informed that written permission was needed first from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to grant such an interview. Gagging of the officialdom in Sri Lanka by those in political office is not something entirely new but if even the most senior officials cannot be trusted to express their views to the media without authorisation from others, it paints a sorry picture about the levels of confidence that those who appoint them to high office place on them. So while these rules stay and get tightened further, the Sri Lankan media will have to suffice with “His Master’s Voice and His Master’s Voice cuts’ parroted through the official spokesman/spokespersons.


Dullas switches to Sinhala for talks with Ban, Kohona gets interpreter job
When Youth and Skills Development Minister Dullas Alahapperuma addressed a UN Forum on Youth in New York last week, he singled out the successful World Conference on Youth held in Colombo last month.

In an institution known for a cacophony of several tongues, not to mention six official languages, the minister spoke in English sticking to a script before him.
But when he met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he insisted in speaking in his native Sinhala. As a result, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona was a stand-in as an interpreter — translating from Sinhala to English and English to Sinhala.

At the end of the discussion, the Secretary-General turned to the Sri Lankan ambassador and said jokingly: “Now, you have got a second job as interpreter.”
And in the UN, interpreters are one of the highest paid staffers who switch effortlessly between languages — and minus a written script.

Lankan women MPs on eventful US tour
Women MPs who were recently in the United States on a US State Department sponsored study tour had a memorable time during their stay there.
On their arrival in Washington on May 24, there were initial hiccups after the MPs had to stay at the airport for nearly an hour after Immigration officials found something amiss in the documentation of UPFA National List MP Kamala Ranatunga.
With UPFA MP Sudharshanee Fernandopulle and UNP MP Rosy Senanayaka’s intervention, the matter was resolved and the legislators were on their way for the ten-day tour which focused on the theme “Women’s role in politics and governance.”
Nisha Desai Biswal, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, was among those who called on the Sri Lankan parliamentarians. She queried from them what role the women MPs had played in dealing with human rights issues in the country.
Ms. Fernandopulle made a strong case saying her husband (assassinated Minister Jeyraj Fernandopulle) had been killed by the LTTE and she was left alone with her two young children. She said it was unfortunate that not enough questions were being raised about the human rights of those killed by the LTTE. After an eventful tour, the legislators returned to the country on Thursday.


Seconds of glory for CM aspirant
At the March elections to the Western Province, Upali Kodikara and Nimal Lanza fought on the same issue — a vote for them would be a vote for a future chief minister. That was until UPFA leaders intervened and made clear it was President Mahinda Rajapaksa who would decide on the Chief Minister once the results were known. Both called off that plank of the campaign.

On Wednesday, when the Western Provincial Council met, the chosen Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga was away from Sri Lanka.
So, the task of acting for the chief minister fell on Upali Kodikara. If the title of that office was distant for him, Mr. Kodikara found that the chief minister’s chair was closer. So he sat on it. Moments later, he received a note from the Secretary to the Council. It was a polite request not to occupy the Chief Minister’s chair. So it was only seconds of glory for Mr. Kodikara. He promptly switched to another chair.


Make use of those VIP lanes
It was like the pithy Sinhala folk tale of the man who climbed the kitul tree to drink toddy that was still in the pot atop the flower.

He was coming down having drunk the toddy, when the tree owner asked why he had climbed. “It was to cut grass,” he replied. When told there was no grass on the tree top, he replied “that’s why I am getting down.” The newer version came this week when the Colombo-Negombo road was choking with traffic.

The communications set in the hands of a Police officer crackled. He spoke on it and lunged forward to halt traffic heading towards Colombo. Moments later, a Ministerial convoy — the usual lead vehicle, a plush luxury car followed by an escort vehicle with armed men — whizzed past.

A mercantile executive thought the best way to get to Colombo early would be to join the tail end of the ministerial motorcade. So he followed the escort vehicle only to be stopped some kilometres away.
A traffic policeman stopped the motorist, a senior executive in the private sector, and questioned him how he had joined the ministerial convoy. “What offence have I committed,” asked the executive. “You are driving in a VIP lane,” was the reply.
Not to be outdone, the motorist said in anger “there won’t be roads left for us if you make all roads VIP lanes.” The good spirited traffic cop let him go.

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