Discrimination, lack of courtesy, sadly appear to be commonplace in society After thirty long years, I visited the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens last Sunday. I expected large crowds and a long wait to get an entry permit as we were there at 10 a.m. but was pleasantly surprised that there were no queues. The visit to [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Discrimination, lack of courtesy, sadly appear to be commonplace in society

Eye sore: Plastic and other rubbish strewn around in Peradeniya gardens

After thirty long years, I visited the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens last Sunday. I expected large crowds and a long wait to get an entry permit as we were there at 10 a.m. but was pleasantly surprised that there were no queues. The visit to the gardens was organised by some resident expat friends and a childhood friend and I were excited to be a part of the group. As, even though we were born and bred in Kandy and I still live here, we had not visited the botanical gardens since 1987.

The first negative was when one of my resident expat friends was denied the “local” rate of a ticket and was asked to prove her “resident” status with an original passport and visa. She had lost her passport once before and now carried photocopies with which she had visited the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens two months prior. While I paid Rs. 60 for my ticket, she was asked to pay Rs. 1500 which is 25 times the price of a “local” ticket.

We moved from the “payment” counter to the “help” counter, to ask why a clear photocopy of the visa and passport were not adequate proof of residency. A “supervisor” looking harried barked at us over the “customer service” man’s head and stated he is only doing his job and that is all he is able to do as he did not make the decision. The “customer service” man looked quite bored while his “supervisor” continued to raise his voice at us.

In the midst of it, I was pushed aside by a man waving thousand rupee notes and asking for two tickets from the “help” counter. “My guests are in a hurry and willing to pay thousands,” he said. To my surprise, the “help” desk man fished out a ticket book looking quite lively at the sight of the green notes and calmly issued the tickets. The “guide” stared at me triumphantly and remarked that being pretty isn’t going to get me anywhere and waved more notes in my face and said, “this, is what works”. We were thus dismissed by the “help” counter “customer service” man who completely ignored us thereafter.

I was appalled. Is this how we welcome visitors? Especially those who are willing to deposit a lot of money in our banks and retire here? Why the discrepancy in the ticket prices in the first place? Wasn’t Sri Lanka the land of smiles, with the friendliest people, so hospitable and giving?

At the main entrance, I noticed that my expat friends had to fish out their licences, passports etc. again to prove they were residents, to the Security this time. The lady security officers were also rude to many who carried bags, expat, and non-expat. Whatever happened to common courtesy, to paying customers at least?

The botanical gardens seem quite well maintained. The map the “foreign” rate afforded us gave directions to the various highlights. However, no garbage bins were visible. Many polythene wrappers, plastic bags, plastic bottle tops and even plastic bottles were strewn about the underbrush. Signage of how harmful waste is to the environment was scarce. There were signs listing the plants in Latin available almost everywhere. But not many signs with the common names/translations and the uses of the plants were visible.

This incident made me realize that Sri Lanka is on a downward spiral in terms of simple courtesy. All of us work hard and pay taxes to ensure that relevant services are available and those employed in the public sector are paid. The public sector has apparently forgotten the contribution the taxpayer makes.

The businesses were kept afloat during the past 30 years thanks to the “locals” and “resident expats” who patronized such places in the absence of the tourists. But those business owners have short memories too, it seems and now post “Foreigners Only” signs so they can charge higher rates for services/goods.

The officials should make an effort to not only be courteous but more supportive to all customers and use their discretion when needed.

There should also be an effort to plan and improve areas such as below:

n Introduce an all entry pass to all cultural and other sites in Sri Lanka (RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) or barcoded).

n Visitor or Business Visa, charge USD 500 (or suitable amount) at the airport for the “cultural development fund” or similar fund.

n Resident Visa/Work visa should not require this charge

n Other applicable charges at the sites can be specifically mentioned and include a list of sites such as the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens that one can visit with the RFID/barcode.

n Charges at the site LKR 60 (or suitable amount)/automated ticket machine.

n Maps, information leaflets, and other promotional items could be available for sale at cost on site and payment for these too could be automated.

n The bar coded or RFID pass could be used to monitor visits per site, per passport (if required). The RFID could be returned at the airport (like a boarding pass).

There may be an initial cost of acquiring RFID / Barcoded tags, computers, software and monitoring items per site, training personnel etc. However, it will:

n eliminate the discriminatory pricings at cultural and other sites and ensuing confusion, having to prove citizenship, carrying visa status papers to prove residency etc.

n eliminate the various guides and touts and even officials trying to engage in nefarious and illegal activities with ticket monies at the sites.

Places of worship such as the Sri Dalada Maligawa should not charge a fee at all. In fact, it is shocking that handling money is allowed at these holy sites in the first place.

Allowing such crass behaviour of officials and others involved in any trade and discriminatory pricing etc. has to stop if any trade is to succeed and sustain. The law has to be stringent and strictly maintained. Common courtesy demanded by officials with the use of CCTV and machines to issue tickets etc., at the onset, may help. But in the long run, the leadership leading by example and the law being strictly enforced will allow courtesies to eventually become common behaviour.

Development should not be limited to concrete structures but should be accomplished parallel to the development of human behaviour in order to be sustainable. We are a predominantly Buddhist nation and should be an example to the world. Discrimination in any form should not be a part of our society.

Y. Fernando

When will private hospitals refund VAT payments? 

Private hospitals were requested by the Government to pay 15% on all hospital charges including fees paid to doctors for medical consultancies and surgical operations commencing  May 2016. The hospitals charged these VAT payments from the patients. I understand that these monies have been remitted to the Inland Revenue Department by the hospitals. However the Supreme Court had given a judgement making these payments illegal as Parliamentary approval had not been obtained for the VAT Bill.

Parliamentary approval was finally obtained for the VAT Bill on October 26. 2016 and VAT came into effect from November 2016.

Will the IRD  refund the VAT payments  made prior to Nov. 1, 2016 ? Refunds should be made to the hospitals so that they could contact their patients and make the refunds. The  IRD is under obligation to do this  but no information has been given as yet.

The amounts accounted by the hospitals  could be considerable  as doctors’ fees for surgical operations are very high and so are the room charges and nursing facilties.

E. Kalpage


 CMC workers on the road; not collecting garbage but driving three wheelers

Recently I wrote about the incompetency of the Colombo Municipal Council in collecting trash from residential properties. Thank you for publishing my letter.

I got a chance of speaking to some people who know what is happening in this Council.  It is a well known fact that the employees working in the garbage collection report for duty every morning and then vanish thereafter.  It is an open secret there that they ‘vanish’ with the knowledge of their supervisors.

After ‘vanishing’ they go and drive three wheeler taxis.  The money that they collect from this ‘second job’ is shared with the supervisors for protecting them.  As a result the CMC does not have sufficient employees ‘on the road’ to collect garbage.  Thus they cannot have several trucks for garbage collection and cannot fix proper schedules for trash collection.

This is all due to very bad management.  All the inefficient and unfit people in the Management should be kicked out. They must dissolve the Municipal Council and hand it over to a private company or to the adjoining municipalities to run it.

Angry resident
Via email

Right of Reply

Articles that could be detrimental to relations between Rwanda and Sri Lanka

I write with reference to two articles published in the Arts section of the Sunday Times Plus on  December 4 2016 and January 15. The two articles your paper published were of author Anjan Sundaram who participated in the Galle Literary Festival last week.

He is the author of the book “Bad News; Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” which is about Rwanda and ‘Stinger’ which is about the Congo. The book “Bad News” is out of context with many inaccuracies and misrepresentations. There are plenty of journalists still operating in Rwanda which is still undergoing a healing process after the terrible genocide against the Tutsi’s in 1994. He spoke at this Literary Festival in Galle on January 13 and when I confronted him at the question and answer session with facts and figures, he had nothing tangible to say about his writings accusing the President of Rwanda of being a dictator.

Currently there are about 35 Rwandan students in Sri Lanka at the KDU and Command & Staff College (Bathalanda) and several MOU’s have been signed between the Governments of Rwanda (GOR) and Sri Lanka. There are also many Sri Lankans who are working in Rwanda at the moment with no problems whatsoever. I too worked in Rwanda for 20 years and still visit as a consultant at least three times a year.

As the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Rwanda in Sri Lanka I have an obligation to diffuse the tensions that could be caused between the GOR and the Government of Sri Lanka and would like to respond to the detrimental comments carried in your newspaper. I believe that this is only fair by your readers.

JCE Alles
Honorary Consul for the Republic of Rwanda in  Sir Lanka

Open letter to Education Minister

Shocking punishment that amounts to child abuse

I was on my way to office on January 5, when the bus I was travelling in, slowed down near an international school on the Galle Road, Gorakana, Panadura. The sight that befell my eyes was heart rending to say the least. A boy of about 14 years was kneeling outside the gate of this school, attired in the school uniform. Obviously he had been punished, maybe for turning up late.

The first thought that crossed my mind was “child abuse”. Yes, definitely so, as whoever had made this boy kneel outside the gates of the school, on the pavement and just a few feet away from the Old Galle Road itself, could have carried out a punishment within the premises of the school and not used this boy as a pitiful exhibit!

Children should be disciplined, but not in this manner. I was shocked and furious, as this boy was shielding his eyes from the morning sun, but what I felt was that he was shielding his eyes from embarrassment, as passers-by stopped to look and those in vehicles, peered out.

I urge you minister, to kindly take action on my complaint and even carry out an investigation into the incident, which occurred between 8.25 a.m. and 8.40 a.m. on January 5.

D. Wijesiriwardena
Via email

Thank you, staff of Kitulgala District Hospital Emergency Unit

I am writing this in appreciation of  the services of the doctor and nurses of the Kitulgala District Hospital on Sunday, January 15. My family and I were on the way from Hatton to Colombo and around mid-afternoon my one and half year old baby got ill with high fever. We realized he needed immediate medical attention and the closest hospital was the Kitulgala District Hospital.

As we rushed in quite distressed, the doctor and nurses of the Emergency Unit were very helpful and gave him quick medical attention. They also advised us on first aid to be given to the baby, as we had to continue our journey back to Colombo. We felt very fortunate and blessed to have them at that very upsetting moment.

A very big thank you to all of them. May they have more courage and strength, to continue their service.

Rinza Hathy
Colombo 4

 Beware nocturnal drivers of booby traps awaiting you


A new kind of ambush awaits motorists, especially those driving at night.

I was taking a few friends out for dinner to Colpetty. Driving on the dimly- lit road along the Beira lake, a three- wheeler suddenly came head -on to my left slowing me down. The next moment I heard a big thud behind my car. My first thought was that it was a tennis ball that hit the car. I drove away without stopping.

No sooner had I taken the bend heading towards Slave Island, a three wheeler came roaring behind me, the driver shouting and waving at me to stop the vehicle. When I slowed down to a halt near the railway crossing, the driver of the three- wheeler was hysterical saying that I had hit another three- wheeler and the owner was waiting for me to come back. He feigned adequate desperation on his face in an attempt to make me turn the car.

I was in no mood for his antics as I felt I had not hit anyone or anything. I gave him a tongue- lashing using his own brand of rhetoric and drove away. I saw him furious, reluctantly turning back his three- wheeler.

Had I gone back, I guarantee that a precisely orchestrated accident scenario would have awaited me, with all sorts of shady characters playing the extortion game.

In fact, my friend who was seated with me in the passenger side said he clearly saw the guy who passed me on the wrong side giving the rear of my car a good thump with his fist. Well, he was not strong enough to dent my car nor leave behind a scratch, as closer scrutiny revealed no tell- tale marks.

Beware ladies and gentlemen who do nocturnal jaunts.

Amarnath  Paul

Suggestions for a better three wheeler ride

The proper regulation of three wheelers fares islandwide is something the public have been longing for, for years which none of those in authority, whether they are in the Ministry of Finance, Transport, or Consumer Affairs have cared to look into.

* Most three wheelers have meters that indicate Rs.50 for the first km and Rs.40 for every additional kilometre, even though there are some with meters which are constantly ‘out of order’.

* Many of the meters are either purposely defective or have been manipulated.

*  Even with meters many three wheelers do not want to use them especially near large hospitals or places where they want to make a quick buck.

* Many three wheelers still do not have meters. They negotiate a price but often end up having an altercation with the commuter at the end of the journey.

* No meters have been fixed in almost all three wheelers running in the upcountry and they charge more than Rs.100 a km.

Whilst it is appreciated that a majority of three wheeler drivers are courteous and reasonable there are some who turn rude or even abusive over charges.  In order to avoid altercations, the authorities should immediately regularise all hiring charges for three wheelers. Some of my suggestions are:

* It must be made COMPULSORY that all three wheelers should  have meters fixed if they are used for hire.

* All cities should charge equally, and the present charge of Rs.50 for the first km and Rs.40 for every additional km is a good yardstick, provided there are regulations like having ceilings on longer distance, e.g. Rs.35 per km if more than 50 km and Rs.30 per km if more than 100 km and so on.

* In areas where the roads have not been maintained properly, (e.g. estate areas) the charges could be about 50% more than the normal rates but not like what is practised at present.

*  Those operating near hospitals etc., should not be allowed to run without the meters.

* It should be made compulsory that three wheelers that have no meters should carry a sign CLEARLY stating ‘NOT FOR HIRE’.

I trust the buck will not be passed from authority to authority until it goes to the President himself.  The public deserves something better.

Anver Kamiss

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