The old G.P.O. should be used for a majestic purpose Having read the letter on the old G.P.O. on Queen Street published in the Sunday Times of May 10, 2015 by Mr. S.R.M. Samarasinghe of Dehiwala, here are more details that may be of interest to readers. The construction of a new building for the [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Letters to the Editor


The old G.P.O. should be used for a majestic purpose
Having read the letter on the old G.P.O. on Queen Street published in the Sunday Times of May 10, 2015 by Mr. S.R.M. Samarasinghe of Dehiwala, here are more details that may be of interest to readers.

The construction of a new building for the G.P.O. commenced with the laying of the foundation stone on August 29, 1891 after the Legislative Council had approved the estimate of Rs. 270,000/- for its erection. When the tenders were invited for the construction of the building, the lowest formal tender was nearly Rs. 100,000 over the estimate, and it was then decided to undertake the work departmentally.

Considerable time had been spent in blasting and clearing the site (which was in close proximity to the Galbokka) of the rock boulders by blasting operation. The site was bounded on three sides by streets, and with old buildings occupied by merchant and shipping offices which were affected by the vibration from the rock blasting operation. During 1892 the work had proceeded up to a few feet above foundation level.

The work during 1893 continued up to roof level and the iron work and roof timber members had been fixed. A contract for casting of the heavy columns had been awarded to Messrs Walker & Sons Co, the heavy iron trusses had been made at the Government Factory and the framing and the fitting of the iron work for the floors had also been attended to by the Government Factory. The sawing of timber required for the roof, the floors, doors and windows was also done by the Government Factory.

The stone required for the staircases had been quarried in Panadura and transported to Colombo. The large quantity of cut stones had been obtained from Ruwanwella and Ratnapura and transported by boat to Colombo Lake and then on to the site.

The number of workmen, both men and women employed for the work throughout the year was around 315 of whom 180 were skilled artificers. Mr. H.F. Tomalin was the designer and the officer in charge of the construction of the new building. It was said that his devotion to this building was almost a case of structure worship.

The building had been erected strong enough to carry another upper floor, and the final cost of the building amounted to Rs. 351,207/-

Robert Knox Mac Bride, C.M.G. Director of Public Works 1885 – 1896 summing up the work on the General Post Office wrote:-
“The General Post Office made fair progress, and part of it was occupied early in January, 1895. The embellishment of the exterior and interior has taken more time than anticipated. Ceylon workmen are unaccustomed to anything so elaborate. Though they have been slow, they have done their work well and creditably under Mr. Tomalin’s instruction.

“As there have been exaggerated ideas regarding the cost of this building, I desire to record a comparative statement of cost of names of the principal buildings in Colombo.

Museum 22.50 Cents per cubic foot
Surveyor 22.00 Cents per cubic foot
Customs House 24.50 Cents per cubic foot
General Post Office 25.00 Cents per cubic foot

“The last named is the cheapest building. There is more interior detail than in any of the others, and it is a more imposing and attractive structure, both inside and outside, while for stability and permanence it leaves nothing to be desired and it will not be finished before July 1895”.

The building had been erected on the entire rectangular block of land with a broad frontage to the Janadhipathi Mawatha (former Queen Street) on the west, Srimath Baron Jayathilake (former Prince Street) on the north, Mudalige Mawatha (former Baillie Street) on the south and the eastern boundary was the lands owned by the mercantile sector companies.

The statue of Governor Sir Edward Barnes facing the Kandy Road, was built in 1831 during his time. The Kandy Mail Coach, the first horse driven mail coach in Asia, commenced its services during the time of Governor Sir Robert Wilmot Horton on February 1st, 1832 from Royal Hotel, Colombo Fort which had been built on land facing the Prince Street and adjacent to the land on which the former G.P.O. building was erected in 1895.

The A1 Kandy Road, was called Prince Street in the Colombo Fort area up to the Khan Clock Tower roundabout, and Main Street in the Pettah area up to about the first mile stone which was erected close to the Dam Street junction and then proceeded onwards, and after crossing the Kelani Ganga wended its way up to Horagolla, Mahahena, Ambepussa, Utuwankanda with an occasional hijacking of the Mail Coach by Saradiel, ended its 72 mile journey at the Boarding House, (later called Queens Hotel) in Kandy. The coach left at 4.00 a.m. each day, and while the Colombo – Kandy journey took 14 hours, the Kandy – Colombo Journey took only 12 hours. The Kegalla Kachcheri was established in 1844.

The Postal Department is now well served with storeyed buildings on spacious lands on both sides of D.R. Wijewardene Mawatha and does not need to revert back to its old haunts, in the Colombo Fort.

The old G.P.O building should continue to be painted with brilliant white paint and this “White House” which faces the President’s House, may be refurbished and used as a State Guest House. The 120-year-old stately building should be used for a majestic purpose.

The details contained in this essay have been gathered from Sessional Papers, travel books of visitors to Ceylon and from the History of the Public Works Department edited by P.M. Bingham.

W. Panditaratne

Mindless renaming of city roads
Tissa Devendra’s displeasure (ST 24/5) over the mindless renaming of the city roads is quite fair and acceptable, notably the naming of Thimbirigasyaya Road after “a trade unionist cum cleric”. What would have been right was to honour the temple not the priest. To change the historically distinct name so lovingly described by TD, which even the Britishers did not interfere with, is absolutely thoughtless and stupid.

Asoka Weerakoon

Open letter to the President
I wrote to the Sunday Times on April 26 under the title ‘Mr. President focus on pledges, not party politics’ reminding that 6.2mn people voted for you not to head the SLFP and lead the UPFA in elections but to focus on pledges made by your team.
However now, it seems and we observe, that your time/efforts/resources are more and more being employed to sort out SLFP/UPFA issues. National priorities such as electoral reforms etc, are noticeably neglected. Your efforts might be effective and thus the SLFP/UPFA may be victorious to form the next government but the chances of it happening seem remote.
The danger here is that if the UNP, despite your full involvement in SLFP/UPFA party politics, wins an adequate number of seats to form the next government, your January 8 historical victory will potentially be diluted and finally this situation will have an adverse impact on the country’s future! People who voted for you might think your advisors are not doing the job properly!
K.U. Pushpakumara

Mayhem on our streets
I read with sadness the increasing number of accidents involving trishaws and motorcycles resulting in the loss of many lives.
Surely the Traffic Police which has a large force led by a DIG, S SPs, officers with powerful vehicles, etc paid by public funds must realise that they have a duty to stop this mayhem on our roads.

Lane discipline must be strictly enforced. Pic by Hasitha Kulasekera

Most of the traffic policemen hide behind trees and lamp posts “copping” mainly trishaws , motor bikes and small cars for minor offences to keep the targets of their superiors while allowing the expensive vehicles to get away assuming they are carrying VIPs.

2) The latest trick after the VVIP stickers were banned is to have a blue and red light flashing on the dashboard while barging through! These lights should be banned immediately

3) Most trishaws are driven at speeds exceeding that of normal vehicles zigzagging all over the road – that’s the cause of most accidents. Speed limits must be introduced for trishaws and they must be restricted to the left lane only unless turning. Crashes in trishaws result mainly in deaths as they have no seat belts, airbags or any other safety equipment , that car drivers have.

5) Motorcycles and scooters too must travel on the left lane unless turning

6) Lane discipline must be strictly enforced

7) There should be unmarked police cars and bikes and personnel to enforce the law

8) Buses too contribute to most accidents: the traffic laws should be strictly enforced on them
R. Alles

Strengthening our existing constitutional system
There has been continuing debate on constitutional issues in Sri Lanka with certain issues coming into focus. With the expected dissolution of Parliament and the 20th Amendment, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has been on record talking about a National Government with all parties in Parliament coming into one big committee.

It has somewhat the features of the Donoughmore Constitution. This means the entire Parliament will be divided into committees eg. Agriculture, Education, Health etc. The Chairmen of these committees will form the Board of Ministers, who will function as the Executive. The Executive will always have to be sensitive to the wishes and priorities of the elected representatives of the people.

It is assumed that Parliament will have control over the Executive as the Executive will depend on the support of Parliament to pass legislation. Control of the Executive is not easy but it is definitely much easier than the all powerful Presidential form.
In the evolution of the constitutional system in Sri Lanka one has to make note of the polarization of parties which in turn contributes to hinder the progress of the nation economically, socially and culturally. This leaves the Parliamentarian no way of thinking of what is good for the country.

In the endeavour to mould a new system for the nation it is strongly suggested that some features of the Donoughmore constitution are brought into our constitutional structure, Some benefits are:

1) It enables continuity and intensity of involvement of Executive policy. It gives every Member of Parliament the feeling that he has the potential to make an impact in the decision of executive policies.
2)This encourages Members to deliberately choose the subject that in which they have special interest or skills.
3) It enhances the MPs’ responsibility and supervisory knowledge into government’s undertakings
4) MP’s regularity and involvement enhances knowledge of Administrative details
5) Scrutiny and distinct procedures can be more meaningful and productive
6) Greater control of public finances.
7) Greater sense of compromise, willingness to give and take.
8) The system brings about greater ventilation of grievances before consensus is reached.
9) Minority viewpoints are likely understood in small committees. Religious /ethnic diversity is more likely to receive consideration as every vote counts at the committee

Adaptation of some of these features in our multi-party system will strengthen and develop our existing constitutional system and also our community at the present time.
This will not only draw divergent perspectives into vital areas of government but bring about all-important reconciliation. What’s more the control of the Executive will happen in the process.

S.C. Moraes
Via email

Nostalgic memories of the government servants of yore
The comment made by Praying Mantis in the Sunday Times 2 of June 2, 2015 with the caption “Permanent Secretaries: A Lesson from the Past” would have kindled nostalgic memories among the government servants of yore.

In his own words, there was a time, in the not too distant past, where in this beautiful and resplendent isle of ours, there was a well respected group of public servants called “Permanent Secretaries”. They were the people who ran the departments and the ministries.

They were career officers who were the topmost bureaucrats. They were not political appointees. Their Holy Bible was the AR and FR. They did not play to the whims and fancies of the Ministers, many of whom were less educated than them.

The designation of the post was changed to mere Secretary by Minister Felix Dias Bandararanaike when they were in power, as a result of introducing the SLAS. That move was tantamount to reducing the weight of the title, lowering their dignity.

However, things turned topsy-turvy with the appointment of Anandatissa de Alwis who was not even a government servant by President J. R. Jayewardene, as the Secretary of State in 1977. Thereafter every successive government followed suit.
During the era of permanent secretaries we had never heard any proceeds accrued from a sale of any property belonging to a ministry being deposited in the same Ministry accounts instead the Treasury account.

The sorry state of affairs that prevails now is that political appointees are regularly put in place. With changes in the Ministerial portfolios, they will be removed and substituted by others, at the behest of the new Minister. These officials become “yes-persons” and dogs of politics, and sometimes go to jail with the Minister, when the other party comes to power.

U. K. Chandrasinghe
Via e-mail

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.