Not quite a tsunami but certainly a swell The not so recent local government elections led to much hype and ‘hoopla’ from some sections of the media. What appeared to be a united Joint Opposition (JO) at the time clamoured for the results to be translocated into the central Parliamentary complex and for the previous [...]


Letters to the Editor


Not quite a tsunami but certainly a swell

The not so recent local government elections led to much hype and ‘hoopla’ from some sections of the media. What appeared to be a united Joint Opposition (JO) at the time clamoured for the results to be translocated into the central Parliamentary complex and for the previous regime to be restored to the halls of power.

An O’ level mathematics student would have told you that the numbers simply did not add up to allow the recall of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The JO had no absolute majority in the local bodies contested for and a one-to-one numerical victory for the President would not have been in the JO’s favour.

With the hype abating and the government standing resolute, many of the ‘cracks’ in the JO have been revealed and their political base weakened. The slow grinding legal inquiry process has been ongoing. The Presidential Commission into SriLankan Airlines, the ‘deals’ with Chinese companies, wilful disregard for human rights and the laws of the land have reduced the opposition to shouting from the rooftops regarding the various purported Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and the rising cost of living etc.

The inevitable postponement of the Provincial Council elections is certainly to the liking of the TNA leadership of Messrs Sampanthan and Sumanthiran who along with the government will be happy to see the back of the current chief minister Justice CV Wigneswaran.

The current political atmosphere appears to be in limbo. This is in the context of the activities of trade unions and the attitude and response of the ordinary people at large.

Take for example the following recent events:

The General Medical Officers Association’s (GMOA) endless wildcat strikes and generally disruptive actions have affected poor patients who cannot easily access private medical care. “We” the people now hold the medical profession in very low esteem. We question the need to reward such a profession with lucrative tax exemptions, travel allowances, or indeed the number of holidays and leave days annually.

Their constant attempt to interfere with the economic policies of the government where their knowledge of the subject would be cursory has irked other professional groups.

The resignation of the President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), Professor Colvin Gunaratne, formally a Professor of Medicine at the University, Colombo was directly attributable to the interference in ‘governance’ issues of the SLMC by the GMOA.

Looking at membership of medical councils from the Tamil Nadu Medical Council (established in 1914) to the General Medical Council in the United Kingdom it is noticeable that trade unions are not part of the regulatory council. The council usually consists of senior doctors, a representative from the colleges, experienced individuals from other professions and the public.  The main function can be summarised as ‘protecting the public and being supportive of doctors’. Any medical practitioner being accused of clinical negligence or gross professional misconduct, following extensive preliminary investigations may be asked to appear before the Medical Council for arbitration. Rightly, as members of a trade union, the union may be asked by the individual doctor to represent them at a hearing. The current situation in Sri Lanka makes this well nigh impossible if the GMOA controls the SLMC. There is a gross conflict of interest.

Recently, following an accident on the railways the drivers union and locomotive operating engineers union (LOEU) embarked on a series of ‘wild-cat’ strikes placing an enormous burden on the travelling and working public. Their anger was seemingly directed at the railway workers particularly when it was revealed that some engine drivers earned up to Rs.200,000 per month! Reforms regarding conflict resolution between employers and employees need to reflect the modern workplace practice. Arbitration, consultation and the balloting of members prior to strike action needs to become common practice.

The disruption of the commercial centre of Colombo between Ward Place, Lipton Circus and Kollupitiya on a regular basis imposes untold hardship to workers, school children and businesses. Actions such as those by IUSF are meaningless. They cannot be called ‘strikes’ since these students have no labour to withdraw!

The recent sentence of 19 years rigorous (6 years concurrently) imprisonment for Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thera, General Secretary of the notorious Bodu Bala Sena was significant. ‘We’ the public applaud it as justice being seen to be done and want to move forward with the development of the economy as the critical need of the hour.

The government has been remarkably open about the difficulties that lie ahead. The servicing of external debts, the need to collect taxes, and increase productivity in all sectors to generate more income internally and in foreign exchange has been explicitly stated. There seems to be more of an understanding of the globalized world economy and the inevitability of being subjected to fluctuating world prices. The ‘technocrats’ in government, along with banking institutions are seemingly being allowed to get on with it without political interference. The need for monetary and fiscal control is mandatory for long-term gain.

The Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987 designed to stop the internecine war, devolved limited powers to the newly formed Provincial Councils (PC), eight in all, the North and East being one. The imminent dissolution of most of the Provincial Councils, as per their constitutional mandate has posed a problem for some and an opportunity for reform to others. As your columns revealed recently, most PCs have been found wanting on service and economic delivery. Many elected individuals to local bodies are corrupt and the calibre of officials at the provincial or district levels is poor.

The failure to pass the delimitation legislation last week where even the proposing and tabling Minister voted against it has probably placed the PCs on the back burner at least until the Presidential elections in two years time.It is however, time to reflect on whether the original set-up is of relevance today particularly in the context of the contemplated introduction of a new constitution for the Sri Lankan state.

The JO with its problems of rifts and rivalries within the coalition has no tangible alternative policies for development or handling of the financial crisis and debt.

‘We’ the people however, have a sense of further pain with the rising cost of living but detect a possible change of fortune in the long term.

This change may not be a tsunami but certainly it is a swell.

Ravi Perumalpillai  Via email

We need a monument and info centre on the Vadaya

I was interested to read about the religious ceremony at Rankoth Vihara in Panadura to mark the 145th anniversary of the Panadura Vadaya and the lecture on the Vadaya at the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka (Sunday Times 2, August 26), however, it is disappointing that there is no monument to the Vadaya at the site, adjacent to the beach in Panadura, where the actual debate took place.

There should also be a museum or visitor-centre nearby where locals, visitors and tourists can learn more about the Vadaya. Information should be provided on the organisation of the debate, who attended, speeches given daily, how the event was reported in Sri Lanka and elsewhere and the significance of the Vadaya to the Buddhist revival in the 19th century.

It would be desirable for the monument to be erected and the centre opened in time for the 150th anniversary commemorations in 2023.

R. P. Fernando   UK


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