India’s demonetisation: We did it first in 1970 I am surprised that the media has not yet picked up the fact that ‘Ceylon’ pioneered this demonetisation exercise in 1970. I was then Government Agent of Matara and thus, in the thick of the programme. I now quote from my account in “Tales from the Provinces”: [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



India’s demonetisation: We did it first in 1970

An Indian bank security guard stands near a public notice, “Cash was finished in bank” posted on a door of a Central Cooperative Bank branch as people wait to deposit and exchange 500 and 1000 rupee notes in Amritsar on November 16.Long queues formed outside banks in India since the government’s decision to withdraw the two largest denomination notes from circulation. AFP

I am surprised that the media has not yet picked up the fact that ‘Ceylon’ pioneered this demonetisation exercise in 1970. I was then Government Agent of Matara and thus, in the thick of the programme. I now quote from my account in “Tales from the Provinces”:

”One evening a constable came to The Residency to deliver a cryptic Police message from the Minister of Finance about the issue of new currency notes. This was followed by a courier from Colombo carrying letters which spelt out the details whereby every single currency note in circulation was to be rendered invalid overnight. A strictly limited number of notes was to be issued in exchange  and the rest of the money thus “flushed out” (an unhappy choice of phrase !) had to be compulsorily deposited in a State Bank. I went into a huddle with my Assistants, Accountants, Bank Managers and Police Superintendents. Together we worked out the logistics and security involved in this draconian exercise whose hub was to be the Kachcheri. An armed escort delivered the bundles of the crisp and colourful new notes the same night.

As soon as the SLBC broadcast the disturbing news next morning it was greeted with a sense of shock and unleashed a run to the Kachcheri and Banks. The Kachcheri was placed on a war footing, all other work was halted, and relays of clerks relieved their colleagues exhausted by the crowds storming the Shroff’s counter.  Trade Unions of the Left were dominant in 1970, and keen as mustard to demonstrate their loyalty to Comrade N.M’s extraordinary exercise to squeeze “black money”out of “bloated capitalists”. Long unhappy queues snaked their way to the Kachcheri clutching wads of old notes for exchange. Strangely enough no “bloated capitalists” were to be seen. Labourers, teachers, market vendors, butchers, bakers and joss-stick makers and housewives lined up for cash to buy their daily needs. Shamefacedly, hanging on to shabby bags plumped with filthy notes , were maimed and ragged beggars unhappily exhibiting their wealth to the public and thus ending forever “customer” credulity and generosity.. The Kachcheri and Banks labored mightily, well beyond office hours, before they wearily shut up shop till the next day. Bitter and frustrated latecomers left for home now clutching their worthless paper money which could buy them nothing.”

Tissa Devendra
Via email

Consultations between PM and President a must

In a popular English Daily of October 24, the leader of the National Movement for Social Justice Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya is reported to have unequivocally stated that the President and the Prime Minister should take decisions in consultation with each other on contentious issues in the administration of the country to avoid unnecessary squabbles and conflicts. He had acknowledged that, that there were disputes between those who had been long standing opponents like the UNP and the SLFP wasn’t surprising.

Here undoubtedly the onus is on the Prime Minister. He should understand that in the appointment of institutional heads and the adoption of various national policies consultation with each other is an absolute necessity.

In the interests of the country the “Lichevi” concept exhorted by the Buddha and often preached by the Prime Minister himself in many a forum, should also be practised by him in all sincerity for the success of a peaceful and prosperous
Sri Lanka.

A.W.M. Aiyoob

No one wants to live in a spelling mistake!

I have noticed a recent trend of some Sri Lankan property developers spending millions to build a block of apartment residences but then spelling (and trying to sell) their apartment block’s name wrongly as “Residencies.”  Who wants to live in a spelling mistake?

Royston Ellis
Via email

Revisions and omissions: The plight of pensioners

The Pensions Department has let down a large number of pensioners by neglecting its duties towards them as most of them were unaware of the revisions of pensions under Public Administration Circulars 15/2003, 09/2004 and Pension Department Circular 06/2004 of 25.02.2004.

Many pensioners did not receive their revised pensions under these circulars. On top of these came the other revision on 01.01.2006 under Public Administration Circular 06/2006 of 25.04.2006  and the Pension Department Circular of 23.05.2006. A further revision was made by the PA circular 06/2006(iv) effective from June 2007 which was not implemented until July 2015.

Some of the pensioners received increases on an ad-hoc basis but not the real pension increase that they ought to have received. Many were denied this revision. Yet, another revision was effected in view of the anticipated election in August 2015. All the public servants received a Rs. 10,000 bonanza. This was a sop to Cerberus as rulers realized the importance of placating the pensioners too for a positive vote. However the revisions denied to the pensioners from June 2007 to June 2015, a period of eight years is forgotten. Though  the pensioners  were denied these revisions the entire public service benefitted from these revisions and all those who retired after June 2007 were able to draw enhanced pensions based on higher salaries.

Also some of the Health sector pensioners whose pensions were to be revised in January 2004, December 2004, January 2006 and June 2007 were denied these revisions until July 2015 from which month they were able to enjoy the benefits of higher pensions without arrears (from January 2004), for almost eleven and a half years.

This letter is to educate the pensioners who were in the dark. What has the Pensions Department got to say about this?

Affected Pensioner

 We are taxed for their luxury lives

‘Pay the Tax – Build the Nation’ reads the Finance Ministry advertisement to the Nation. For the last 1 ½ years, the Prime Minister, all the ministers, MPs, even Provincial Councillors have been going on luxury trips abroad, using tax payers’ money. What benefits has our country received using helicopters to travel within the country too.

VAT  has been increased but of this Rs. 1480m will be utilised for vehicles for the Prime Minister and ministers. How about other expenses to maintain those vehicles and helicopters etc.? Sri Lanka is financially hard hit and the minister asks us to pay taxes but it is not to build the Nation but for the luxury living of the above mentioned.

Waruna Rajapaksha

A correspondence log could help get democracy really working

If democracy is prevailing in a country, then the voices of people need to be heard.  In our country, this does not seem to be the case.  It’s mainly because the procedures adopted are flimsy and archaic. The so-called advisors and secretaries who manage the day-to-day mail and correspondence decide whether the  item needs to be forwarded to the head of state (i.e., the President) for further action or thrown away into the dustbin. This is complicated by the fact that there is no practice of an acknowledgement system in Sri Lanka.

The so-called specialists and secretaries do not have the same capacity of thinking and a wider perspective as the President and they are limited by their own narrow field of view.  That’s where the injustice begins. I am also aware that many of the suggestions made by the public have never been shown to the President. These officials are under the impression that they are doing a great job by reducing the workload of the President.

In order to circumvent this problem, I would like to suggest to maintain a log such as the one shown here.  This will enable the President to know the actual status quo of the people’s needs on a daily basis. This log may also be used by any Authority or Ministry where Advisors/ Specialists/ Secretaries are employed to respond  to enquiries and proposals made by the public.

It will eliminate the normal blocking of information and will not be governed by any individual’s whims or fancies.  The authority can get a good idea as to what extent any authority has fulfilled the public needs by checking the totals effected.  Also, if necessary the authority may check the rejected ideas at random to check  the veracity of the rejection criteria.

- Kithsiri De Silva
Via email

Juxtaposing traditional diplomacy with economic diplomacy

The Foreign Minister and his Deputy have time and again mentioned the need to streamline the Ministry and its overseas missions to enable them to play an effective role in promoting trade and investment.

At the recently held meeting of the Young Lankan Entrepreneurs (COYLE) the Deputy Minister had presented the  Ministry’s priority task of addressing the issue of creating a dedicated and more effective method of promoting Sri  Lanka as a trading and investment destination to the world using the platform of its overseas missions. He had reiterated this commitment by the Ministry subsequently at a Rotary District event. He stated, “The Ministry wants our foreign embassies to be more productive and to be more profitable to Sri Lanka.”

The dawn of the democratic governance, adherence to the rule of law and some of the progressive measures already adopted towards reconciliation and communal harmony have gained the acceptance and appreciation by many in the international community. Hence the vision of the Minister and his Deputy to draw in foreign investment and promote international trade through our foreign missions in the backdrop of this positive environment appear promising and achievable.

In view of this laudable measure I felt it opportune to highlight some of the recommendations made by me to the Foreign Secretary, vide my letter of February 26,  2015 at the tail end of my brief tour of duty as Head of Mission in Bagdad, Iraq.

During my brief stint of less than six months I realized that a relatively small mission such as Baghdad operating in a turbulent atmosphere could still play a pivotal role in promoting trade and investment if there was commitment and the will to adopt a positive role by the officials concerned.

In my letter, I highlighted some of the progressive measures that we implemented such as –the setting up of the Data Bank of Sri Lankans employed and domiciled in Iraq; steps taken to lift the ban imposed by the Iraqi Government on importation of coconut fibre  from Sri Lanka; facilitating the shifting of the Chancery and Residence to two modern buildings at lower rentals in an up market area in Bagdad; adopting cost cutting measures in terms of services such as electricity, computers, phones and courier; recommending the setting up of a Consular  Office in the peaceful and economically advanced semi autonomous region of Kurdistan. I also suggested that the Ministry circulars which were outdated, some of which have been issued as far back as 1960 be amended. I also pointed out the need to fully utilize all features of the Comprehensive Integrated Computer System (CIGAS ) which would enable disposal  of the archaic carbon copy voucher system journals and ledgers; the need to discontinue dispatching a bulk of old newspapers in the diplomatic bag was also mentioned as in this electronic age newspapers could be accessed via the internet.

I also forwarded a schedule of Recommended Promotional Activities to be undertaken by our overseas missions under the Heading “Sri Lankan Missions – The Way Forward”. It spelt out relevant action to be undertaken in respect of the following areas. (a)Organizational Set Up. (b).Image enhancement of Motherland (c) Strengthen relations with host nation. (d) Investment Promotion (e)Trade Promotion (f)Tourism (g) Employment Opportunities. (h)  Aid Availability

The above mentioned perspectives may not be a comprehensive and complete list. Nevertheless, it may be of some benefit in the formulation of a pragmatic plan to juxtapose traditional diplomacy with economic diplomacy.

Vie email

Look at the past for a united land

On the basis of the three regional councils, namely Ruhuna, Maya and Pihiti that ruled Lanka in the past, a similar system of government would lead to resolve the ethnic issue that we are experiencing today, I believe.

To achieve this representatives for the same three councils have to be elected by the ballot of the people, and at the same time an executive body also has to be elected in the similar manner for counselling, advice,  guidance, monitoring supervision and for maintenance of law and order in the country at large.

Thus a peaceful unitary govt. could be formed for a united Sri Lanka.

Let’s shed our differences and tread on the path for a free Sri Lanka.

P.H. Masmulla


 Let the drinker have his drink, but not at the expense of law-abiding citizens

Permitted liquor outlets have proliferated during the last few years parallel to the illicit dens. Locations have been selected more at the behest of the licensee rather than the residential citizens or their state functionaries or the civil society. The applicants for liquor licences are so experienced and organised in this trade that they know how to get them. This is made simple by the people’s representatives being prone to be inveigled into their vortex.

To satisfy formalities, reports are prepared as to the distance between the proposed outlets and restricted areas like the schools, places of worship etc. The applicant is so powerful in the locality that the location he has earmarked to have his bar, tavern or the outlet gets legitimised and for that he obtains the signatures of the householders in the vicinity mostly on blank sheets and fills in the blank sheet with whatever is required to satisfy the requirements to obtain permission.

Though referred to as bars, these are not pubs where the patrons sit and sip but only an outlet for selling or a person to have a quick gulp before going on his way. The drinkers or addicts go in search of places to commence their consumption especially the schoolboys and young workers who cannot take them home. When they use the unoccupied premises or unfrequented lanes, the nearest compound is the garbage bin for them. Used items in lanes or roadsides get collected by those who collect them for resale or recycling but not from the private premises. Almost all the houses in the vicinity of bars undergo this health hazard of used bottles and cans. For the drinkers it is good riddance of bad rubbish but for the residents it means unwelcome litter and breeding receptacles for the fearsome dengue. The unfortunate part is the preventive health authorities find fault with residents without stopping this menace at the base.

They can easily have the outlets relocated far away from schools and places of worships. These outlets are an eyesore to anyone who sees the unruly behaviour of half drunken carriers of bottles hovering around and struggling to move on to reach the other half.

A  very few outlets should  be converted into pubs or toddy taverns at least with seating accommodation and facilities for disposal of used cans and bottles there itself.

One of the most profitable businesses now is the liquor trade. The long vehicles plying on the carpeted highways are carrying more of liquor than other requirements of the people. Even the President has openly declared that the revenue contribution from the North from the liquor trade is a record for the country.

Total banning of liquor or to close down the outlets or limit their opening hours will be an exercise in futility where the loopholes, the ruses etc are legion. A total ban is more dangerous for the despicable evil brew known as Kasippu will rear its ugly head and dominate with deadly results.

The state earns a lot. Most of the people appear to enjoy their occasional or vocational drink. Only a minority like us eschew the brew. Why not locate these outlets in remote areas where the access to the watering holes for the inveterate drinker may not be a problem and the menace gets confined to a corner. In those outlets let there be facilities for the drinkers to sit and sip and have something to bite to go with it. This will prevent them from using the compounds; the lanes, even school premises as their garbage bins. They appear to spare the places of worship not that they are pious but that there is a lurking fear of divine punishment which of course is not there. For them social sanction or the fear of law does not exist. They behave as antisocial elements with little or no regard for the residents, schools, public institutions and the access lanes and by-roads.

It is high time the state authorities issued fresh licences. It is important to stress that Temperance is like the Utopian dream. Let us be practical. People drink,  let the state get its revenue , let the drinker have his drink but let him not inconvenience the law abiding citizens  whose welfare should not be sacrificed at the altar of the innumerable evil practices which rule the roost. Let them all be reminded that one’s freedom ends where another man’s nose begins. Most noses can’t bear the stench associated with liquor.


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