The Sunday Times on the Web Letters to the Editor

22nd November 1998


'Inspiration' strives to give back their rights

Imagine an incredible situation where your beloved child is prevented from going to school because there is no birth certificate. Imagine a situation where your teenage son is not able to acquire an Identity Card or a good salaried job because there is no birth certificate. Imagine your son or daughter - excellent students - forbidden to sit for O levels. Imagine your son/daughter - excellent sports persons - are barred from an overseas tour because of no birth certificate. This is a real situation: no birth certificate, no ID card. No ID card: no job, no salary, no passport, no visa, no rights.

For me this news was a shattering revelation. Where I come from, a baby is registered at birth and parents are issued with a certificate or appropriate papers. Not to have a birth certificate would make life difficult, unthinkable,impossible.

However, I was told that in Colombo there is a multitude of young and old who have no birth certificates; they become vulnerable; they can be discriminated against, abused, paid less, refused ID cards etc. I can never get a clear answer as to why/how this is allowed to happen; why do these people have no birth certificates? In fact I think a great number of people in authority have no idea, or do not think it important, or do not realise there is a problem, that such a percentage of people exist without being registered on a roll, or given a birth certificate.

To rectify this problem to some extent, Jezima Nalim, a lady full of grace, of great strength, and foresight has established an NGO called 'Inspiration.' The sole purpose of this orgnisation is to give back to these street kids or young adults their right to a birth certificate. Although Jezima's own life has been difficult (bringing up a sizeable family as a widow on her own was no easy task) she was determined to do something for these children, to correct the social wrong, overcome financial obstacles and give them a right to a future.

I met Jezima Nalim more than a year ago, when I attended a Children's Day celebration and ceremony for awarding birth certificates to fifty or so children and young adults. Jezima told me that all she wanted to do was to give them hope, a future and equal opportunities in life. She regarded the obtaining of birth certificates as inspirational, a cause for celebration. It was an amazing day. I saw boys and girls claim a future, just by stepping up the podium and receiving birth certificate papers at the hands of statesmen.

Recently, I attended a workshop at St.Joseph's College (funded by Australian Government) which Jezima organized under the aegis of 'Inspiration' for school principals. Guest speakers were Prof. G.L. Peiris and Australian High Commissioner, David Richie. The rationale behind this workshop was to make school principals aware of the problem, and urge them to take action and make this information available to a widening circle of people, thus encouraging awareness in the community. Consequently Jezima travels far and wide to provincial schools to gather data, and identify children with no birth certificates.

At the SAARC convention this year, the focus was on issues of child abuse and legislation. However, as minimal in importance as it may seem, children without birth certificates are open to abuse even before they take their first step into society. Without birth certificates they lack access to protection; they can be recruited into the labour force at a young age, they will receive minimal wages, minimal attention, minimal care and rarely any compensation in case of injury. Employers often do not feel responsible or accountable for a child-labourer's welfare, particularly those without birth certificates. Such children become prey to abuse simply through negligence. This negligence on the part of society is abuse.

We should be more aware of this negligence. In fact this negligence of society by which a child's birth is not registered, constitutes a fundamental abuse of that child's right.

Alya Henry
Colombo 7.

Morally wrong to pass it on

Its head has been raised by one percentage point in the recent Budget. It is a necessary levy. But it is not a consumer's tax like the GST is. But in some quarters it is being passed on to the consumer. Why are the authorities turning a blind eye on those institutions like Sri Lanka Telecom and banks which are passing on to the consumer the NSL which the institutions, are obliged to pay under the law (Defence Levy Act 52 of 1961 and its amendments? Name changed to National Security Levy by Act No. 36 of 1995) Section 2 reads: "This Act shall apply to every person who (a) carries on the business of manufacturer of any article; or (b) imports any article manufactured outside Sri Lanka; or (c) carries on the business of insurance or banking or finance (d) carries on the business of providing telecommunication services.

When the tax is so passed on to the consumer, the institution itself pays no Security Levy. This is morally wrong. Such institutions most of all should contribute directly to the National Security (of course, they would pay some amount of levy if other institutions bill them for it - which those other institutions should not do). I said that this passing on is morally wrong because there is no law which prohibits the passing on; nor is there a law which allows it - as such.

However these institutions do not appear to be aware that when the Defence Levy was introduced in 1961, the then Minister of Finance clearly said in Parliament that this levy should not be passed on to the consumer - and indicated that if it were done steps would have to be taken to prevent it. If it is permitted, it would mean that those who are called upon to contribute to the Save the Nation Fund (Act No. 5 of1996) (i.e., employees, public or private sector; professionals and self-employed - some of whom may not even be liable to pay income tax) are called upon to pay in addition a National Security Levy while the big entrepreneurs pay neither.

The Save the Nation contribution is not by law payable by members of the armed services - quite rightly so and for an obvious reason. Is there no obvious reason that they should not be called upon to pay a National Security Levy - which the above mentioned passing on makes them do. They are providing National Security with life and limb.


What an achievement!

The President has proudly declared that the PA has achieved in four years what the UNP could not achieve in 50 years. Although I do not agree with her statements on most occasions, I fully agree with her on this claim.

Under UNP rule, Colombo was a city where one could travel to any part of the city at anytime of day. This is not the case now. At every street corner there is a check point guarding some institution which should not be in the city in the first place! Colombo looks like a city under siege and resembles what Saigon looked like in the 1960's according to pictures in Time and Newsweek (There was no TV in Sri Lanka at that time).

JRJ only closed the road for about 50 yards in front of his house. CBK closes the roads all around her at night and violates the fundamental rights of the residents of Colpetty whose right to free movement is violated.The Defence Budget has increased from Rs. 24 billion in 1994 to Rs. 57 billion in 1997 by a government that came to power promising peace.

The IMF representative in Colombo has described the present budget as being unrealistic and disappointing.

The price of oil has declined by 50% in US Dollar terms in the last four years. Inspite of the Rupee currency depreciation of 40% during this time, oil prices in Sri Lanka should have dropped by 30%. The PA government has instead increased the price by 25% since coming to power, as the Petroleum Corporation has replaced the CTB as the recruitment agency of the government in power.

I wholeheartedly agree that the PA has achieved in four years what the UNP would not have done in 50 years.

C. Ramachandra.
Colombo 7

If we can stand, can't they too?

I am prompted to write this in the hope this would catch the eyes of all those right thinking learned people whatever religion they may belong to.

I would like to know when a sign over a seat in the bus says, 'Poojaka Pakshayata' (for the clergy), who this 'poojaka pakshaya' is to the conductor and of course to most people? In my opinion it could be any religious person in a robe irrespective of the colour of the robe.

Being a daily traveller, I have on several occasions noticed that the seat is made available only for the 'yellow robes'. And when a Buddhist Priest gets into the bus he goes straight towards the reserved seat and promptly the person whether male or female gets up and offers the seat to him. It is a good practice indeed. But what about the ones in white robes?

In fact when I got into a crowded bus in Borella once I saw this Christian nun standing clinging on to the bar and these two supposed 'gentlemen' seated happily in the seat reserved for the clergy ignoring the nun altogether. Even the conductor didn't seem to care or notice. I was naturally annoyed and asked the conductor what the sign meant in a loud voice. It was then that another person seated behind got up and gave the seat to the nun who got off at Pettah. Mind you, the two 'gents' were travelling only up to Maradana from Borella - a matter of a few halts!

The teachings of Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ are similar in most respects. They teach us to be humble. Otherwise why should Lord Buddha leave all his wealth and go to the jungle to meditate and Jesus Christ be born among the poorest of the poor?

Anyway, although they are all in robes, whether white, yellow or brown, they are all humans and surely they could go standing like the rest of us. But then these signs displayed for 'Poojaka Pakshaya' should be removed so people like me will not find fault and start another war!!

Mrs. S Fernando,

No Party Party

It pleased me to read in the newspapers of the efforts of Mithra Wettimuny to establish in our Motherland a partyless political system within a democratic framework.

Indeed, I myself have long felt the party system has been a bane to the progress of Sri Lanka in every sphere. The crying needs of the economy are always in danger of being subverted to serve narrow ends of party supporters. The focus appears to be to win over the hustings by introducing popular measures at the expense of strict financial as well as administrative discipline; by veering away from adopting sound principles which are destined to be brought under attack by parties in the opposition with an eye to win votes especially of the working class majority.

What we need to govern the country is a body of knowledgeable, committed, honest, efficient, patriotic, in short, meritorious men and women (even from the successful entrepreneurial classes, i.e., a guided 'mercatocracy' clearly committed to forms of profit-sharing and the non-exploitation of labour) - such individuals who, and this is important, are not in need of other people's money to take up the reins. (I can hear the cynic cry out - But where can you find such individuals? I say we can locate enough of them in our land - without having to go about with a lighted lamp in the blaze of the noonday sun!)

The establishment of such a system could be initiated by the present parties forming an all-party union - as a possible means to this end of ushering in a brave new world - where none is for a party and all are for the State - like those ancient Roman brothers going forward hand-in-hand to fight the common enemies of poverty and deprivation - no matter to what tribe they belonged.


Let's face it, we didn't play well

They say that victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan. When the Sri Lankan cricket team was knocked out of the Mini World Cup by the South Africans, the blame was put on the rain, Duckworth and Lewis and everyone else but themselves. Didn't the South Africans also have to field in the rain?

Wasn't the 240 runs scored by the South Africans off 39 overs, far too many runs to be conceded by the Sri Lankan's? Didn't star bowler Muralitharan give away 48 runs in his six overs?

We then come to the Sharjah Tournament. Sri Lanka was defeated twice each by Zimbabwe and India. In one of the matches we were bundled out for 98 runs by India. A former captain of Sri Lanka speaking on TV said that the defeats were due to the team failing mentally after their defeat in Bangladesh, the absence of Muralitharan, not enough rest between tournaments etc. If they fail mentally every time when they are defeated, a team like Zimbabwe would have given up cricket a long time ago.

The absence of Muralitharan was never a factor, as we batted badly and never put up a decent score on the boards. And as for not having enough rest between tournments, India and Zimbabwe also came to Sharjah straight from Bangaladesh and they had no complaints. If you play good cricket, you will win. So stop passing the buck and learn to accept defeat gracefully.

Shehan Jayawardene,

Don't forget the micro organisms

Recent comments on the crossing of the Leonid meteor stream have all overlooked an interesting, potentially important and even dangerous consequence. It is now widely accepted that comets carry complex organic molecules including amino acids that might at the very least have been connected with the beginnings of life on this planet.

The importance of the present crossing of Leonids is that the source comet, Temple-Tuttle(which has a period of 33 years) came closest to the sun on the last occasion only nine months ago. So the Earth will be in receipt of freshly evaporated cometary particles over the next few days. Spectacular meteor shows are caused by the entry of particles of sizes typically larger than a grain of sand which burn up as they plough into the Earth's high atmosphere at a speed of some 70 kilometres per second.

Besides these larger particles the meteor stream will also contain perhaps in comparable mass, a population of bacterial-sized particles.

We have shown that particles of the sizes of micrococci or smaller travelling at 70 kilometres per second would be flash-heated to temperatures up to about 500 Kelvin for brief intervals of the order of seconds, after which they will be slowed down to reach the stratosphere.

In several laboratory experiments it has been demonstrated that bacteria retain viability under such conditions of flash-heating in a near vacuum.

Lab experiments have also shown that bacteria that become de-activated through exposure to ultra-violet light (as might happen after nine months in orbit) are easily reactivated, through the operation of enzymes, when the source of radiation is removed. Thus the possibility of viable micro-organisms from comet Temple-Tuttle reaching the Earth cannot be ruled out.

The average daily input of cometary dust to the Earth is estimated at about 50 tonnes. A ten thousand fold increase in this quantity over a couple of days seems likely, leading to a total mass of the order of a million tonnes.

If as little as one part in a thousand of this is in the form of viable micro-organisms, the total number of microbes drifting down to the Earth will be a staggering 10 to the power 23 ( 1 followed by 23 zeroes)

Professor C.Wickramasinghe
Sir Fred Hoyle
Cardiff University

Return to the Plus Contents

Write a letter to the editor :

Letters to the Editor Archive