The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

12th January 1997




Bahrain's PM on visit here

Bahrain's Prime Minister Sheik Khalifa Bin Salman Al Kahlifa was on a private visit to Sri Lanka this week. He came in his private jet and left on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar paid a courtesy call on Sheikh Khalifa on Wednesday at the Hilton. He was met on arrival at the BIA by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs D. P. Wickramasinghe.

Black protest

Women for Peace will hold its fifth Women in Black peace campaign on January 18 at the Hyde Park Corner.

The campaign is being held to rebuild the now derailed peace process in the country and raise public consciousness of the war and its impact on communities, the organisers said.

Budget pay hike: Treasury not ready

By Minna Thaheer

Minister of Public Administration, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake has blamed the Treasury for not making arrangements to pay the 40 per cent salary increase promised in the last budget, amidst indications that some 600,000 government servants would have to wait until next month or beyond that to receive the pay hike.

The Minister when contacted for comments about the delay told 'The Sunday Times' that his Ministry could only issue the necessary circulars and it was the duty of the Treasury to make arrangements for the payments. We made arrangements for this some months ago and delays are not our fault. If the Treasury has no funds we can't help it," the Minister said.

However, Ministry Secretary R. S. Jayaratna told 'The Sunday Times' that the delay is due to a hold-up in preparation of salary revision lists, and due to the activities of various committees appointed to work on the salary revisions of certain public sector employees.

Public service trade unions feel that the delay has been caused due to financial problems at the Treasury and said that they were not even sure that they will receive the increase next month. The Vice President of the Public and Provincial Public Service Trade Union, T. A. Nandasena said the public servants are deeply distressed about the delay in the payment of the salary increase.

Burnt body found in thicket

By Marcus Joseph

An unidentified half charred body of a person was found by the Panadura police, near the Indigahathotupola ferry area yesterday.

Panadura's Acting Magistrate visited the scene and found the body in a thicket along a foot path. Beside the body were half burnt clothes. A bag was on top of the charred body also half burnt.

Panadura police believe that the deceased would have been brought in a vehicle to the scene of murder and burnt after kerosene was put over the body. On the instructions of the Magistrate, Jayanthi Pieris, the body was sent to the JMO, Colombo North, for the autopsy.

Two Lankans given a rough passage in India

By M. Ismeth

Famed Indian hospitality towards foreigners received a rude shock at Chennai (Madras) airport recently when a Sri Lankan Supreme Court Judge and a Sunday Times journalist who is also an attorney-at-law, were abused, harassed and humiliated.

The two Lankans were part of a delegation invited to attend a colloquia on "Regional Perspectives on Gender Equality," organized by the National Judicial Academy of India, and Sakstie (a non governmental organization) in New Delhi, last weekend.

The drama unfolded when the Lankan delegates arrived in Chennai on Indian Airlines flight IC 479 from Delhi to get a connecting flight (IC 573) to Colombo.

The IC 479 flight was originally due to land in Chennai at 9.30 am, with the Colombo bound flight due to take off at 11.30 am. However, due to adverse weather conditions prevailing in Delhi, the IC 479 flight was delayed, ultimately arriving in Chennai at 1.30 pm.

Upon arrival, the two Lankans had proceeded to the Indian Airlines office at the airport to seek assistance to get to Colombo on the next available flight. It was at this juncture that the duty manager of Indian Airlines had reacted in an extremely hostile manner, claiming the existence of an airline regulation which allegedly states that there should be a time gap of three hours between local and international flights.

"You have been informed of this, and you travel at your own risk. We cannot accept any responsibility for your accommodation or transport to a hotel and neither can we ensure a seat on the next flight," shouted the duty manager.

His attitude became even more abusive when he was contradicted by the Lankan journalist who pointed out that such an alleged regulation was never included in the ticket, and nor did the Indian Airlines officials who issued the ticket in Colombo inform the Lankan delegates of this fact.

Banging his fist on the table, the duty manager grabbed the passport of the Lankan journalist, threatening to call the airport security and detain the journalist. It was only after noting the designations of the travellers that he calmed down.

Meanwhile, a Swiss couple who were travelling to Male via Colombo and who were in the same predicament as the Lankans were treated very courteously by the duty manager who immediately endorsed their tickets for the following day's flight.

The question plaguing the Lankans were whether one had to have fair skin to be treated politely by Indian Airlines officials at Chennai Airport?

Subsequently, the Supreme Court Judge's ticket was endorsed for the Air Lanka flight at midnight by Air Lanka officials, after much persuasion, while the Sri Lankan journalist had to stay overnight in Madras at her own expense.

To add insult to injury, the journalist was asked to pay US $100 by hostile Indian Airlines officials to obtain a so called "priority booking" for the next flight to Colombo when she came to the airport the following morning. This money was ultimately paid.

Legal action is presently being contemplated against Indian Airlines in view of the extreme mental trauma undergone by the Lankan delegates at Chennai Airport. Organizers of the judicial colloquia in New Delhi who were hosting the Lankan delegates have also assured that they would be lodging a formal complaint against Indian Airlines officials at that end.

This has not been the only recent incident of harassment and humiliation of Lankans at Chennai. A Lankan stockbroker underwent a similar bad experience in January 1, 1997 at Chennai when she was off loaded inspite of her reconfirmed ticket when she arrived at the airport to check in. She was able to obtain a seat on a Colombo bound flight only two days later.

With intra regional travel between SAARC countries being spoken of and promoted at all regional fora, is this the manner in which India proposes to implement this new regional cooperation?

The three Lankans, smarting from their recent horrendous experiences can only vow never to travel to Chennai again!

Doctora-administrators will remain, GMOA adamant

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

The government has appointed a task force to work out the modalities of implementing a recent government decision to do away with some doctors holding key administrative positions in the health sector. Health Minister A. H. M. Fowzie will head the team.

Mr. Fowzie told 'The Sunday Times' that the committee will shortly announce their strategy to replace doctor-administrators with experienced officials from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS).

The government's proposal last week to oust unwanted and troublesome 'trade-unionist professionals' holding administrative posts was exclusively reported in 'The Sunday Times'.

It is learnt that very soon committees similar to one that Mr. Fowzie heads are to be appointed for other institutions like the Irrigation Department and the Electricity Board which also have professionals in administrative posts.

A spokesman for the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) told 'The Sunday Times' that they would not allow this proposal to come through, "We will see that not a single doctor holding an administrative post is removed", he said.

The spokesman said that doctors are essential in the administration of the health sector, as they are the only people capable of adjusting to the requirements of a medical institution, or the Health Ministry. "It is very difficult for a layman to fit into such a set-up."

Meanwhile the Engineers Union at the Irrigation Department in a statement said that the SLAS was very active in widening the gap between the government and the professionals, so that the SLAS will be the 'favourite son' of the government.

"The government, we gather, may have decided to remove the professionals from vital places and replace them with the 'yes sir' SLAS, as the professionals are an impediment to the government's policies. Also it may have felt that the SLAS administrators would actively support the privatisation of state institutions", the statement added.

"I am writing from the streets"

By Chamintha Tilakaratna

In their Kottahena shack covered only with a tin sheet, vegetable seller Mohammed Haniffa and his wife Dehiwali are desperate but still hopeful. With the Rs.15,000 they had saved to build a better abode, they sent their daughter Fathima Rismia to Kuwait in August 94 through a job agency.

They had hoped that within months Fathima would be able to send enough money for the family to build a new house. But everything gradually crumbled. Fathima has not been able to send any money nor had she even written since September 1995.

Apparently driven from house to house for the personal gain of some unscrupulous agent, housemaid Fathima in her last letter said, "I am writing from the streets". In August her parents appealed to the Foreign Employment Bureau and other authorities to trace and save their daughter but no one knows where she is and the agency has washed its hands off the responsibility by saying the maid had runaway from place to place.

Fathima's case is one of thousands of cases where families here have completely lost track of their loved ones working in West Asia - making it one of the major human problems in a job market. That has become a big source of foreign exchange for the country.

Every year the FEB receives about 8000 complaints, most of them concerning missing workers. FEB officials say most of the missing workers had gone through personal sponsors, rather than through the FEB or registered job agencies.

They often do not know where or for whom they would be working, so they cannot leave a contact number.

The possibility of getting lost is much less when going through a registered agency, but some agencies are known to resort to the tactic of sending these workers from place to place almost every month to get a commission from each employer, the official said.

In addition some housemaids are not allowed to go out of their workplaces or are prevented from writing, while some are illiterate.

In another traumatic case, Yasodha from Kotahena went to Jordan, in August 93 because her husband was sick and they needed money to maintain their five year-old child. They wanted to build a new house and their lives together for the future but eight months after going Yasodha went missing. Her husband Yogeswaran has been trying desperately to get some information but has drawn a blank.

"The agency says it knows nothing. When we threaten to go to the prolice they say she is okay and will come back soon. But time is passing and we don't know whom to turn to. We have no money. "I am without a wife and my child without a mother", Yogeswaran lamented.

FEB officials say they are helpless when agencies say the housemaids have runaway and cannot be traced. The FEB tries to get help from Sri Lankan missions in those countries but often that also is unsuccessful.

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