The Sunday Times on the Web Letters to the Editor

14th June 1998


Intention is not to return

Desertion is a subject, which has hit our headlines in recent times. Desertion is the act of leaving military service without permission and with the intention not to return. It is the 'Intention not to return' that differentiates desertion from the less severe offence of 'absence without leave' (AWOL). Many people are not clear of the position.

Desertion has been the bane of virtually every organised military force throughout history and few armies from the most egalitarian to the most authoritarian seem to be immune. It takes place in war and peace, in garrison and at the front.

Given the sheer dimension of the phenomenon, desertions have unquestionably undermined the efficiency of military organisations. In Napoleonic France almost half the draftees absented themselves from the Army at the earliest opportunity. Similarly in the first year and a half of the American Civil War (1861-1865) the 'Army of the Potomac' alone had 85,000 desertions in a strength of about 200,000.

In more contemporary times, the practice continued, although at somewhat diminished rates. In World War II, the British Army which was nearly 3 million strong (including over one million Indians and several other Dominion and Colonial troops) had a total of 100,000 desertions i.e. approximately 3% and the United States Forces of about the same strength had 40,000 desertions i.e. almost 1.4%. The apparent discrepancy being accounted for by the more lenient American interpretation of 'desertion' as opposed to mere 'AWOL'.

The omnipresence of desertion suggests that the underlying causes vary. The fear of death or injury in battle is one obvious factor, but more widespread motives are likely to be less dramatic. Simple discontent with military life including lack of motivation; homesickness; personal or financial problems; domestic disharmony and lure of employment in more lucrative spheres both domestic and elsewhere. Conscripts desert more than volunteers.

Opportunity also plays a part. It is reported that the French Foreign Legion a highly disciplined force had hardly any desertions. Discipline being one reason and the other was that there was no place to desert in Algeria or Indo China and it was difficult to escape from these places.

Traditionally, desertion was among the most serious of military crimes, but punishment as other aspects of military life was subject to wide variation. In the last century a deserter could expect to be punished with death sentence. In some armies, especially in the United States Army 'Tattooing or Branding' was resorted to so that a deserter could be identified. However in 1944/45 desertions became acute in Europe so the death penalty was once again introduced as a deterrent and one soldier was executed as an example.

The Discipline Regulations of the Sri Lanka Army require a Court of Inquiry to be held after 21 days of a soldier's absence without leave and he is declared a deserter and such desertion should be notified to the Police Gazette.

In the Sri Lanka Army, section 103 of the Army Act provides for persons found guilty of desertion, whilst on active service to be sentenced to 'rigorous imprisonment' for a term not less than three years or any less severe punishment as prescribed in section 133 of the Army Act. There are various provisions in section 134 of the Army Act, which also have to be considered before punishment is determined. Inducing or assisting officers or soldiers to desert or absent themselves without leave is an offence also for persons not subject to Military Law. Such persons can be tried under section 138 of the Army Act before a Magistrate and be liable to a sentence of simple or rigorous imprisonment not exceeding six months, if found guilty of the offence. The procedure for dealing with absentees or deserters is comprehensively covered in Part XVI of the Army Act.

A few weeks ago, it was reported that there were 15,000 deserters from the Army alone. This was a very high percentage. The amnesties have reduced this number considerably. The causes for such high desertion rates must be studied and remedial measures taken.

When Operations are planned, the staff of any Commander must carry out an "Appreciation of the Situation" or as currently called an "Estimate". The various factors including economic costs must be evaluated. Rates of attrition should estimate deaths, injuries, absenteeism etc. Various options are then deduced and should be presented to the decision makers. Decisions should be made on the feasibility of the options.

Lt. Gen. Denis Perera


Nelum Gamage on issues raised by Anura Bandaranaike

The facts are incorrect

I read with surprise the comments concerning me made by Mr. Anura Bandaranakie at the R.I. Fernandopulle Memorial Oration at Maris Stella College in The Sunday Times of June 7. The oration had been on 'Liberal traditions in independent Sri Lanka.'

In the course of his speech he had stated that: "the Director General of Bribery Ms. Nelum Gamage who was the only person to have been named in the PA Manifesto, as a paragon of honesty and victimized by the U.N.P. has today come under investigation herself by her own Department. Not only her, even her husband is before courts on charges of corruption."

I totally deny the accusation levelled at me by Mr. Bandaranaike. It is simply astonishing that Mr. Bandaranaike is ignorant of the correct facts.

T.A. De S. Wijesundera, Chairman of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery & Corruption and Rudra Rajasingham a member of the Commission commenced an investigation against me last year . I petitioned the Supreme Court against this purported investigation on the grounds they had acted in bad faith and in excess of their lawful authority. As a result the Chairman and the Member of the Commission gave an undertaking to refrain from taking any further steps.

It is quite clear therefore that Mr. Bandaranakie has made the above statement in ignorance of the correct situation.

In this same context I would also like to highlight a remark made by Rudra Rajasingham to The Sunday Times of December 7, 1997 where he had made an offending statement against me stating that the Commission intends charge sheeting me for corruption. This statement purpoted to have been made by Mr. Rajasingham is again incorrect. A decision to indict/charge sheet any person is generally made subsequent to the person under investigation been questioned. I have never being questioned by the Commission. It is surprising that Mr. Rajasingham had purported to have made this type of comment without any basis however unpleasant the relationship would have been between us. It is quite probable that Mr.Bandaranaike would have been misled by the comment made by Mr. Rajasingham.

It is distressing that certain sections of the media and two or three others like Mr. Bandaranakie have made disparaging remarks concerning me, a public servant, without checking on the veracity of the statements they make. It is time- consuming and expensive to engage in litigation against such persons.

I am now in the process of sending corrections to newspapers where the news items are such that I am able to correct the distorted facts. In other instances I have commenced to complain to the Press Council.

Mr. Bandaranaike has also commented on the case against my husband. I shall not comment on it as the matter is sub-Judicice But Mr. Bandaranaike never condemned the action of the Commission when a trusted officer of the Commission took an illegal arrest warrant against my husband and he had to get same vacated by appealing to High Court. Mr. Bandaranaike may be ignorant of this fact as well.

The Learned High Court Judge in his Order whereby he vacated the arrest warrant against my husband was critical of the Officers of the Commission who had misdirected the Hon. Magistrate. To harass any public servant by the Media and others in this manner is a violation of the fundamental right of the public servant concerned. The rules of natural justice require that the other side too has to be heard.

Nelum Gamage

What is the moral of this episode?

Houses with large gardens in Nugegoda are usually infested with petty thieves wanting to grab anything such as buckets left out, clothes hanging to dry, fruits, coconuts etc.

It so happened while sweeping the garden my man-servant came across some female and children's clothing strewn in some part of my garden. So my servant, samaritan-minded, inquired from two of the neighbours whether it belonged to them. The newly installed tenant next door claimed them. She took them with no word of thanks.

She seems to have got in touch with the police, as a few minutes later two burly looking cops marched into my house and arrested my servant and took him to the station and made a punching bag of him and thrashed him for good until with bleeding face he collapsed.

Next day he was released with the order to quit Nugegoda and go straight to his estate home. So what is the moral of this episode? A man who does not belong to the right ethnic group must never aim to be a good samaritan.

J. V. Hill


Tragic lack of crowd control

I attended the Finals of the Annual Shakespeare Drama Competition on Saturday June 7, after a break of many years. I was pleasantly surprised by the turn out at this event. The entrance to the BMICH was full of young people, teachers, a few middle-aged Mammas like myself and children. Even at that stage some were rushing about in search of tickets. It was nice to see such an interest in an event of this nature.

By 6.15 pm the balcony, where I sat, was full. The competition began at around 6.30. In the interim there was much talk and laughter, good-natured teasing, and school cheers. There were even cheers for a school which had not made it to the finals. Excitement was mounting and I wondered whether these bright spirits could contain their exuberance during the serious business of the contest and whether adequate measures of crowd control had been set in place.

In my view, the answer to both those was in the negative. Despite entreaty by the compere we saw the use of a laser torch full in a heroine's face. Tragic! Some times during the proceedings, the chattering and laughing and the making of comments was so loud that the actors seemed to be miming. However heroically they strained, they could not make themselves heard above the din. I am sure this would have been a great disappointment to the actors, actresses and audience alike.

I thought it a great pity that the audience in the balcony did not give a fair chance to all the contestants. At times I felt that deliberate barracking of certain schools' performances was taking place; I hope I was mistaken. A few prefects who I feel were present in an unofficial capacity, did yeoman service trying to keep at least their boys in order, but that was a mere drop in the ocean.

Perhaps schools should take a more active role in the maintenance of discipline at events of this nature. It is unfair that the ordinary member of public with no axe to grind, should be unable to enjoy his/her evening for which good money has been paid. It must have been discouraging, for the cast who acted their hearts out, to have been denied the respect that their efforts deserved.

It could have been an enjoyable evening. It was not.

Ursula Myrtle.

Colombo 7

Diyawanna Oya cries for help

The National Environment Act 1980/1988, says:

No person shall pollute any inland waters of Sri Lanka or cause or permit to cause pollution in the inland waters of Sri Lanka so that the physical, chemical or biological condition of waters is so changed as to make or reasonably expected to make those waters or any part of those waters unclean, noxious, poisonous, impure, detrimental to the health, welfare, safety or property of human beings , poisonous or harmful to animals, birds, wildlife, fish, plants or other forms of life or detrimental to any beneficial use made of those waters.

(Section 7, 56 of 1988, part IVB23H)

I pass the Nawala bridge near the Open Universitydaily on my way to work. Each time I slow down to see the once beautiful Diyawanna Oya now neglected , polluted , forgotten by all humans.... fish dying or already dead, lotus, olu, manel, vanished. Birds and lizards are rarely seen. The water is now turned thick black with heaps of garbage floating on the water beside the salvinia plants.

Each time I pass the Bridge I wonder if we'll have a Beira Lake in Kotte too. It's time for the C.E.A to worry about the Diyawannawa. The National Environment Act cleary states the illegality of disposing waste into the inland waters.

Sudheera Wijetilleke


Absence of righteous conduct

    In every nook and corner
    Of this tiny island
    A temple, a kovil, a mosque and a church stand.
    In every part of the country
    A religious atmosphere pervades.
    Every poya day to observe Sil
    Buddhists throng the temples
    Every Friday to offer poojas
    Hindus gather in kovils
    Every Friday to perform congregational prayers
    Muslims merge in mosques
    Christians converge in churches..
    Every Sunday to observe Mass
    At every function of every community
    Religious rights and rituals are performed
    Every adherent of every faith
    Enjoys the freedom of religious worship.

    Materialism has multiplied everyone's needs
    And increased everyone's greed.
    Cut throatism, corruption and graft proliferate in the
    conduct of everyone's affairs
    Social values and morals have tumbled
    In the rat race for wealth.
    Religion is not a mere precept
    Nor an ornament to embellish oneself
    But righteous conduct
    In the day to day affairs of one's life.
    Modern society is beset with 'Strife, discord and
    In the absence of Righteous Conduct.

M. Nazim

Telecom tariff determined by Regulatory Commission

I write with reference to the Fifth Column in The Sunday Times of 17.05.98. Ryp Van Winkle appears to have written it upon awakening from a deep sleep, at least with respect to telecommunications developments in the past few years. Even the news of the telecom tariff increase that was announced in early March appears to have reached him only now.

It has been some time since Ministers set telecom rates in this country. Sri Lanka Telecom has been a corporation since 1991 and a company since 1997. It is managed by NTT Corporation of Japan under contract. Under the Telecommunications Act, the power to determine tariffs lies with the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, which must take into account government policy and operator requirements. Late last year, Sri Lanka Telecom applied for a tariff increase that would allow it to continue to expand the domestic network at the current rapid pace in the face of impending reductions in international revenues. The Telecom Regulatory Commission allowed some changes, approved others with modifications and conditions and disallowed others.

The Company proposed the outright abolition of the concessionary unit charge of Rs. 110, among other increases. In the interests of the approximately 100,000 subscribers whose monthly call usage did not exceed 200 units, the Commission denied the request and created the low-user tariff that has aroused the ire of the columnist. Tariffs of this type are in line with best practice in telecommunication regulation where one seeks to apply concessionary rates to clearly demarcated groups and simultaneously achieve broader public policy objectives. The low-user tariff implemented in April does just that. It is unnecessary to examine pension documents or income tax forms to determine who is entitled to the concessionary rate. The rate is triggered by the behaviour of those who use less than 200 units a month and is automatically applied by the billing computer. Low income users and those who primarily use the telephone to receive calls benefit from the low rate while business and other high users are automatically excluded. The desire to stay under the 200 unit limit reinforces the incentives to make discretionary calls during the evening hours when less units are expended per minute. The low-user rate benefits all users of the network, reducing the congestion faced by non-discretionary users and allowing discretionary callers to control their monthly payments.

The earlier "slab" rate structure that allowed the concessionary rate to be enjoyed by households and businesses, and heavy-users as well as light users, is a crude and expensive instrument. Had the slab structure been preserved, the Commission would not have been able to hold down tariff increases to the extent it did and yet provide the domestic revenue growth needed to keep the network on the current fast expansion mode. It must be noted that the unit charge for those whose total usage exceeds 200 units is no different from what it was before April 15th. It is still Rs. 1.65 because the Commission was able to deny the Company's request to raise it to Rs. 1.95. The low-user rate exemplifies the Commission's effort to "protect and promote the interests of consumers and the public interest with respect to the charges for, and the quality and variety of telecommunications services" as it is mandated by the Telecommunications Act.

Prof. Rohan Samarajiva

Director General of Telecommunications

Return to the Plus Contents

Write a letter to the editor :

Letters to the Editor Archive