The Sunday Times on the Web Letters to the Editor

19th July 1998


Of public servants and pensioners

There is little doubt, that the ambiguity of the statement made by the President of Sri Lanka, at the Annual Sessions of the Administrative Officers Organisation hurt the public servants as well as pensioners.

On the other hand it is quite possible, in the wake of the numerous complaints made regularly over a period of time of procrastination, lethargy, inefficiency and indifference of public servants towards the day to day problems of the public, that the President, through sheer disgust and frustration, gave vent to her feelings.

She has a duty and is finally answerable to the country and quite rightly feels that the public service is letting her government down.

Often we read in the newspapers that 20 to 30 thousand outstanding matters of individual members of the public have been completely and satisfactorily disposed of at the one day mobile services held by the government.

Then daily we read of delay and non-attention in some government department or other. Then there is the ombudsman column in various newspapers where non-attended or delayed problems of the public are spotlighted.

What does all this mean and what does it point to? There is a break- down in the public service. The all important factor is that the public servant should be loyal to the public service and to the government (irrespective of who or which political party is in power). Work in the public departments must go on without fear or favour.

"The government has a total claim to the time, knowledge, talents, and skills of its officers and their salary is fixed on that assumption, unless specifically provided for otherwise." (Cap XXX Section 1.1.1 Establishment Code).

In regard to pensions and pensioners, especially those who had to work 40 years and were awarded pensions of 2/3 of their last drawn salary for meritorious service, it would be most appropriate to reproduce extracts from the Supreme Court of India decision - AIR 1983 SUPREME COURT 130 (a five bench judgement).

In doing so, I have in mind that Sri Lanka and India are two countries in Asia which have the parliamentary form of government and are both welfare states.

In regard to the complaint of the President that 20% of government revenue goes toward pensions, there are two matters which have to be given due consideration. Both are inter-related and cannot be separated.

The first is that a contented public service is a sine qua non for an efficient public service and the second is that public officers in retirement should live without loss to their dignity. This point is effectively stated in the Administrative Reforms Committee Report No. 4 (Sessional Paper No. VI of 1987) thus -

"111. The Committee, therefore, would strongly urge the government to consider compensating public service pensions for escalations in the cost of living through periodic revision of pensions coterminous with public service salary revisions.'

The Committee is aware that its recommendation certainly has financial implications but would point out that the time span of pension payments in the case of most retirees is not overly long.

The extra expenditure which may be involved in accepting this recommendation is, in the Committee's view, fully compensated for by the prevention of the loss of dignity of public officers after their retirement and the enhancement of the morale of the public service as a whole to which this would contribute."

S. Thambyrajah,

Colombo 3.

Telephones: Sad story

My application for a private telephone connection was made long years ago when the service was under the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

The envisaged expenditure on a Telephone then was its initial connection charges and thereafter the monthly rental of Rs. 80/- plus local call charges of around Rs.2 per minute, I believe.

After years of waiting a telephone connection was given to me in 1996. Although the application was made when I was in employment, the connection was offered after my retirement. Since a telephone is now not considered a luxury, I did not mind the enhanced connection charges and decided to have the telephone.

The bitter part of the story unfolds after that, with the government's privatization programme. The telephone service which was under the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has now been transferred to a private organisation called Sri Lanka Telecom Ltd.

This organisation has a whale of a time in the name of reorganization, modernisation, expansion and what not. A printed note containing mere rhetoric is issued to subscribers informing them of all round increases in tariffs.

These increases are done at their whims and fancies. There is supposed to be a Telecommunication Regulatory Commission but what service it renders to the public is not known although we do see that it has rendered a service to the SLT Ltd. by approving the increased tariffs - unconscionable though they may be to the lower income groups.

The prospects are that subscribers could expect periodical upward revisions of the charges by the SLT in the future too.

May I, on behalf of all those in a similar predicament like me, ask the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications/ Sri Lanka Telecom Ltd, to let us have an answer to the following through these columns:-

(a) Whether a subscriber who now finds that he cannot afford to pay the new tariffs introduced by the SLT (plus the added GST and National Security levy) has no option but to surrender the Telephone.

(b) Whether the subscriber who has virtually become a captive for no fault of his has any chance of obtaining a refund of the connection charges (around Rs. 16,000/-) which he has paid up to obtain the telephone connection, if he so surrenders.



Redeem our country before it's too late

During the last few days, the local papers have carried the following headlines.

1). Devananda attacked with knife and poles.
2). Devananda's condition very critical.
3). Terrorists Maul Deva.

Another daily has had an Editorial on this subject.

I wish to look at this incident as a sign of the breakdown of all decent human values in our land. This is despite, or is it because of the presence of four of the major living religions in our Global Village. I say this because, religion is also being debased and exploited by our so-called leaders.Because religion is being thus used, there is a tendency in our society, to forget religious and spiritual values.

Recently, when I wrote a letter to the Editor, spotlighting the breakdown of social values as seen by the breakdown of discipline on our roads, a person responded to my letter, seeking cover under a pen name and missing the whole point of my letter. I think that person in a sense confirms my thinking, the breakdown of values.

When incidents like the attack on Devananda, while visiting LTTE suspects at the Kalutara Prison occur, they are primarily symbolic of the reality, that we do not have values, when handling conflicts. We may have a new Constitution, but that will not guarantee new values and new Sri Lankans.

It is very clear to some of us that before we allow some persons in our country to ruin our land, our homes, our centres of education and our places of worship we must have the courage and conviction to challenge the present value system in Sri Lanka. Unless and until we do that no Party politics can save our country. May all those interested in redeeming our country, from this brokenness, rise to the occasion. Our country needs to be redeemed, before it is too late.

Rev. Sydney Knight

Colombo 7.

Pollution of the sea

Pollution of the sea, especially by oil leaks from tankers, is rated as the worst of its kind, by environmental monitoring authorities the world over.

Unfortunately, the crude oil that leaked into the sea in the outerharbour has already caused environmental destruction along the beaches from the Port to beyond Wellawatte, and the actual damage caused to marine life and plants and environment is yet to be assessed. It is believed, it would take years for the effects to become neutralised.

This incident has raised anger in the public, specially of environmentalists and nature lovers, seeing senior officials of the various corporations and authorities blaming each other over this destruction. But it has been reported that politicians and officials have stepped down or resigned from their positions over environmental issues recently in Asian Pacific countries.

As a measure to combat pollution, few men with back-pack hand sprayers, spraying chemicals along the coast coated with tonnes of black oil, was viewed by all as a practical joke.

With monsoonal rains, the sea is rough in the area.

It is upto some powerful task force to take prompt action or are we going to appoint a commission to inquire into the matter after everything has happened?

Naheer Taip,


Not a haven of fleshpot hospitality

Ina now journeys through, not only Germany, as supposed earlier, but also, all through Western and Eastern Europe, as revealed by the letter of Dr. Lalith Goonatileke of Vienna, Austria in The Sunday Times of 28.06. 98.

Many are the attacks on Ina's journey and many are the defences of it, too. One of the defences was that the Kama Sutra sequences had been edited into the film, later, without the knowledge of the Tourist Board. Even with a momentary acceptance of that position, for the sake of argument, I am constrained to pose the question; forget the Kama Sutra, does the remaining part of the film correctly and adequately depict the tourist attractions of Sri Lanka, to warrant such a colossal expenditure to the tune of US $ 2.5 million? The potential of the golden beaches and azure blue waters, the verdant jungles, wild life, the tea country, the ancient cities, fruits and flowers, hotel facilities and comparatively cheap rates, quick movability to any part of the island within a matter of few hours and traditional Sri Lankan hospitality are not adequately highlighted in this film. Have we got our money's worth?

This fact should have been settled at the stage of writing the screenplay, and there should have been strict supervision of the production thereafter.

Finally, a word on the Kama Sutra sequences. In the first place, Vatsyayana was not ours; he belonged to India and secondly his Kama Sutra depicted sublime ideals of clean, healthy, enjoyable human living in India in a past era.

These are matters which are culturally repugnant to the Sri Lankans to discuss, nay display, in public. The myth of the ready availability of Kama Sutra pleasures at the snap of the fingers, should be buried forthwith.

Somaratne Edirisinghe


Pedestrian lives at stake!

Strange indeed it is, that with so many traffic accidents taking place just opposite the Ja-ela market and the shopping centre, no one has ever given serious thought to taking any preventive measures to arrest this grave and glaring situation.

Although in the early hours of the morning there is a traffic cop on duty to direct the traffic, during the rest of the day, motorists seem to drive helter-shelter with hardly any sympathy for the road users. It's high time that the highway authorities concerned thought of erecting an "overhead bridge" at least, for the convenience and safety of the innocent pedestrians.

J. M. Opatha,


Memories of Veddah Chief Tisahamy

As Tisahamy is very much in the news I am constrained to put in writing a few of my very pleasant and unforgettable confrontations and experiences with this noble, yet said to be a spurious character, in the wilds of Bintenne in particular, and the Veddah community in general, during my three years close association with them from 1978 to l980 when I served as the Assistant Settlement Officer in the Land Settlement Department when the benign colonial influence was still felt.

Those were the glorious times that will never lie in limbo.

Bintenne is one of the famous regions these earliest settlers inhabited being a component of a cluster of villages namely Rathugala, Dambane, Hennanigala, Kotabakiniyawa and several other places which I visited over a dozen times, is encircled by green hills and valleys of Uva and is located at the foothills in the serene surroundings of the forest where jungle life pulsates in its natural rhythms.

I felt that it is only when one plunges from the whirlpool of hectic urban life into the tranquility of hills and woods, that one can find ideal happiness.

On our maiden visit with our equipage consisting of jeep driver, clerk and myself and as we entered the periphery of the vedda domain our unexpected hosts, some of them, not all, scantily and indifferently attired, men with leaves entwined round their waists by a cord improvised with jungle creepers and bare-breasted simple women naively sporting their natural contours greeted us joyfully "suduhura poragamta gammachchana?"

We were clueless. Our driver being a man of the soil, born and bred in Moneragala interpreted this question as "Respected sir, are you going to our village?" Our driver answered on behalf of all of us! "Amincha" meaning yes.

Thence proceeding further we had a problem forging our way through thicket, brake and bramble.

The indigenous population whole-heartedly co-operated by hurriedly procuring some implements of trade and with amazing speed cleared our pathway temporarily making it jeepable for us to meet Tisahamy, the Lion in his own den.

As he saw us he greeted us with gusto "Ayhobo!" with folded hands in a simple but impressive manner and invited us to sit on stone stools in his one compartment house. He talked to us in an unintelligible dialect, which was ably interpreted to us by our versatile driver.

Tisahamy, the generally accepted Vedda Chief, showed us some hieroglyphics carved on stones which he deciphered and our driver interpreted.

After a short respite he led us on foot through maze and labyrinth towards the interior of another village.

After trekking a good two miles through dense forests, we came to the heart of the village, and he bade us sit, under a spreading Na tree in full bloom.He bowed and paid obeisance to this tree and in our presence removed a piece of the bark effortlessly and then a portion of the scion with consummate ease as the whole operative devide was prefabricated.

Then he put his hand to the core of the tree through this opening and pulled out a neatly constructed rectangular box. He opened it and inside was an edible, fully solidified, cake-like slab. He broke it, using his fingers and gave each of us a generous portion.

At first I felt squeamish to eat but as the others ate and not wanting to defy jungle etiquette, I cautiously started munching.

It is incredible to mention that it was the most delectable pastry I ever tasted in my life - so much so that I craved for more and had the lion's share. At the end of it, we asked the host, Tisahamy, for the recipe.

On another visit to the Vedda country, we were taken to a new village called Dammbagahena by Tisahamy. On our return home (to his hut) Tisahamy and his acolyte Pincho espied a herd of elk and he promptly drew his bow and arrow, took aim and shot one through the ear, which staggered for about fifty yards leaving a trace of blood, and collapsed.

Without the loss of much time they skinned the carcass with great skill and dexterity and made a forest barbecue of it and relished a portion on the spot and the balance was given to us to bring to Colombo which we shared among ourselves and our friends and relations. They called it, "Thesta" meaning gift.The remnants of the original settlers of our country the Veddhas accept the principle, that every community demanded conformity to its unwritten laws and that it would be a trifle unneighbourly to set up standards of performance unacceptable and unattainable by its neighbourhood.

Such conduct is considered unbelievable and reprehensible by them.

In short they want their relationships to be sound economically and socially based on the equalitarian and egalitarian principle of give and take.

They offer stubborn resistance to every attempt at urbanisation, organized community integration and collective action.

Gerald de Alwis


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