The Sunday Times on the Web Letters to the Editor

29th August 1999


Find solutions, not cheap slogans

I would like to comment on the crisis faced by the engineering profession.

In Sri Lanka today, the implementation of development work is decided by foreign loans. Any government in power agrees to all the conditions put forward by international lending organisations such as the International Monetary - Fund (IMF). In such an economy, there cannot be industries or projects giving opportunities for engineers to engage in designing and planning. This creates a job shortage for engineers in the government sector. In the construction projects undertaken by foreign companies, designing and operations are carried out by foreign engineers. Only lower-level work is entrusted to Sri Lankans.

Foreigners undertake these projects to make profits and the country suffers as a result.

The Mahaweli project is a case in point. Many scientists are of the view that it has not been able to achieve its basic objectives.

Therefore, local engineers have limited opportunity to contribute to the development of the country. In an economy such as ours, it is the middle-level technicians who are in greater demand than engineers.

In the absence of any scheme or national policy to provide jobs to engineering graduates many have no option but to join the private sector, earning low salaries, where most of the engineering knowledge they gained is of no use.

Meanwhile, certain private degree courses are more or less selling degrees. Many such certificate courses and diploma courses are available in the Moratuwa University. There are also indications that the authorities are preparing to start an external engineering course affiliated to the university. This means that the students who received an engineering education under the free education system will be compelled to compete with private degree holders.

The Engineering Faculty Student Committee has built up a view among teachers, students and parents that to solve this problem, the National Diploma in Technology ( NDT) course should be shifted from the university. They are basing their arguments on the recent clash between the two groups. We the Philanthropic Engineering Students' Organisation are of the view that seeking remedies to the crisis based on the recent clash is not a wise move.

The clash took place as a result of the wavering attitude of the administration and the narrow- minded acts of student leaders in both groups. It is clear that a majority of the students did now want such a thing to happen. The Engineering Students' Committee demands that another 175 students should be enrolled to the Engineering faculty. Our position is that there is nothing wrong in continuing the NDT course as it has been developed as a university course and is open to GCE Advanced Level qualified students.

If the engineering students object strongly to continuing the NDT course as an engineering faculty course, it could be taken to another faculty and continued as a university course. It is not important whether it is in the Moratuwa University premises or outside, only that due facilities should be given. There will be no problem in enrolling not only 175 students but even more. We also urge that the economy should be well planned and the engineering field widened to get the maximum benefit from the engineers. That should be done without pruning any course at national level.

It is futile to hang on to cheap slogans like, 'Remove the NDT course', without finding solutions to the problem. It will not only aggravate the problem but tend to take away the rights of a section of the students to education. If this dispute is to be resolved once and for all, both sections should come to an understanding. The NDT students should realise the importance of the engineering course and the place it occupies in the field of higher education. At the same time the engineering students should understand that the NDT course is a university course of national importance which should be preserved for future generations.

The responsibility of both student groups and teachers is to press for a concrete programme of work that ensures advancement of the engineering field. We, the Philanthropic Engineering Students are for such a programme.

Chandana Pieris
Philanthropic Engineering Students, Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa

The fiasco of MRI scanner

All representatives of the people, whether in government or opposition are duty bound to provide the "health care" the people deserve, irrespective of the strata of life and the society to which they belong.

If this represents the "bedrock" on which parliamentary debate is founded within and without Parliament, surely then, how is it that an M.R.I. scanner is thought to be too expensive to be included in the Health Ministry budgets, year after year. This, while equipment such as "road rollers" and other machinery worth billions, not millions are imported by every successive government. Neurosurgeon Dr. Colvin Samarasinghe says that scanning is necessary to diagnose problems of the spinal cord and brain accurately. But funds are limited and at present the hospital cannot afford to buy a scanner without the generosity of the public. An M.R.I. scanner costs Rs. 60 million.

He pointed out that a scanner is vital for the Colombo National Hospital since it's the premier hospital in the country. "The government is taking steps to obtain one for the hospital, but we need an M.R.I. scanner for the neurosurgery unit as well, if we are to facilitate the needs of the people," he has said.

It is time for the parliamentarians to do a bit of scanning of their own brains from the remuneration they get, to help the poor and the not so poor they represent, and get the scanner and other life-saving equipment.

Let the money collected through the efforts of the people who had helped to obtain funds for that scanner be kept for its maintenance - for otherwise, it will end up like most equipment in government hospitals within a couple of years for lack of proper maintenance.

Our MPs should ensure the scanner is in place without awaiting hand-outs from the public.

Eric A.S. Jayamaha
Mount Lavinia

What standards are these?

Those who hailed Rupavahini's Tamil Division as the flagship of the government electronic media, are today a disillusioned lot, for it has lost most of its elan and its viewers.

The Tamil Division claims that it has a rule that a programme, however, good once telecast will not be re-telecast within one year. But when it suits it, the rule is broken with impunity. The 'semi - artistes programme', which featured a student of dance was telecast thrice. The last time - just five days before the student went abroad.

Under the same programme, a dance performance was telecast more than twice within one year, even though the dance itself had no intrinsic merit. But when one of Sri Lanka's professional Bharatha Natyam dancers offered to give a performance the offer was not even acknowledged.

Recently, a razzle, dazzle dance which had no artistic value but was enlivened by cheap techniques was telecast by Rupavahini.

For years, the Division's most popular programme was 'Kalai Arangam', which featured dance and music performance. Its symbol was the dancing Siva-Nataraja. But that symbol was removed and the picture of a dancer substituted. Viewers would like to know why.

Meanwhile, two dramas, both below standard, were telecast by this division, indicating that those in charge are incapable of distinguishing good from bad.

A disgusted viewer

Eat the local chicks

There has been much discussion and publicity about Dioxin and its possible introduction to Sri Lanka, through imported meat, milk and eggs. However, detailed information on this problem and advice to consumers have not been available to the public. My attempt, therefore, is to review the recent situation and give some advice to consumer.

Dioxins (Poly-chloro dioxine or PCDD) can be produced in the natural state through fires, volcanic activity etc. Among the group of dioxins, the most toxic is 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-para dioxin. There is another group of substances, related to dioxins called Poly-chlorinated biphenyles (PCBs), which can be chemically broken down to dioxins and furans. It is known that both these substances, PCDD and PCBs, cause cancer in humans, specially after long-term exposure. Dioxins are highly soluble in fat. Therefore, human exposure is through the consumption of contaminated animal proteins. Food products having high animal fat, egg yolk, liver, sausages, butter, cheese are likely to attain high levels of contamination. Contaminated products have much higher levels of these ingredients.

The problem has been identified through a highly professional and efficient epidemiological study. Initially, in early 1999 a reduction in the hen day-production and hatchability was observed in poultry breeder farms in Belgium. This problem was investigated and was shown to be associated with feed-grade fat supplied by a company called Verkest in Belgium. Further investigations, including chemical analysis proved, by April 1999, that the problem was related to the presence of high amounts of Dioxins in animal feed. Very soon intensive epidemiological studies commenced and were traced to Fogra, a supplier of Verkest. It was found that 98 tons of fat from tank 1, at Verkest were contaminated.

The authorities then traced the farms where contaminated feed had been used. In Belgium 357 poultry, 685 pig and 386 cattle farms, in the Netherlands 76 poultry, 350 pig farms, in France 33 poultry, 7 pigs, 104 cattle, one sheep and two rabbit farms and in Germany two poultry farms were identified, where contaminated feed had been fed.

A close monitoring of these farms and products were put in place in Belgium, France and Germany. Since this contamination has affected their trade, both national and international, many precautionary measures were taken. In Belgium alone about 2,500 samples are tested for dioxin and BCP per week. Authorities are requested to test and certify, dioxin and BCP free status, for all imports. Any positive samples are not allowed to enter either local or international markets.

Consumers in Sri Lanka should ensure that the chicken they purchase is locally produced. This should specially be so when requesting large stocks as for the armed forces, hospitals etc. Restaurants and hotels must ensure that chicken they purchase is locally produced.

Consumers, therefore, should eat local chicken and not imported chicken. Local feed is not contaminated with PCB, PCDD, growth hormones and other toxic materials.

Dr.A.S. Abeyratne

Signs of weakness and fear of foe

The free media maintain the balance of democracy. Ethical journalism maintains and promotes its growth. When the opposition is weak, the media play the part of the opposition. They expose and criticise strategies and policies of the government. Thus the public is enlightened and invited to voice its views.

On the other hand a weak government becomes aggrieved by media criticism, because it controls public opinion. Therefore it seeks ways and means to curb the freedom of the press.

The major party in the government, after five years in power, still behaves as if it is in the opposition. Its leaders continue to blame the previous government, for all its present day problems and failures. Undoubtedly it is a sign of weakness and fear of the foe.

"The fear of the foe, since fear oppresses strength

Gives, in your weakness, strength unto your foe

And so, your follies fight against yourself"


But Sri Lankans, with a literacy rate of over 80% cannot be easily hoodwinked by politicians. The public can see truth through the clouds of deception and deceit.

People are losing faith in elected governments. Even men and women from respectable families with ideals of honesty, integrity and dignity have thrown all these ideals to the wind once they entered the political arena.

A government is the trustee of the people, who elected it to power. When a government fails to keep that trust and betrays it by its own broken promises, deceit and deception, it makes its people desperate and disillusioned. Then the country slides into civil disturbances, insurrection or anarchy. This is a fact of history.

P. Manokeran
Colombo 3

Man's best friend, victim of savage treatment

The poisoning of dogs at Panadura is heart-rending, because it reflects man's inhumanity to a true friend. This friendship, I believe, had its origin in the co-evolution that occurred in antiquity bringing man and dog together in an association that was mutually beneficial.

Everyone understands the need to keep the stray dog population down, due to the threat of rabies. Earlier, after dogs were caught by the local council there was time for owners to retrieve them. Only the unclaimed were impounded. Now it is not so.

I also fail to understand this savage choice of poisoning when other options are available. Take for instance, the availability of contraceptive injections and surgical sterilization that both effectively keep the canine population down. No doubt, this is also an anti-rabies measure. Then there is the anti-rabies vaccine itself, which when administered en-masse, certainly eliminates rabies . When such alternatives are available, why are the authorities bent on importing costly death vans, each around one million, to eliminate dogs? I suppose the answer lies in the aggressive salesmanship that our politicians and administrators find difficult to resist. In 1998 alone, over 100,000 dogs and cats were destroyed because they were "strays".

Meanwhile, I came to realize the need the poor has for dogs, when I visited slums close to the Kotte Municipal Council for a survey on the importance of getting a death van for dogs. People told me that they cannot confine their dogs to their premises because their homes were on land not more than two or three perches at the most. So the dogs stray, exposed to the risk of getting rounded up by the catchers. Dogs are useful especially in the night when they alert the slum-dwellers to strangers.

Unfortunately, with the present system of voting, the Municipal councillors don't bother to visit their constituencies, thus failing in their sensitivity to the needs of the voters.

Shelton A. Wijesinghe

We need inter-religious dialogue not slander

For the past two weeks, Kumbakarana has alleged that Tamil militancy is a product of Hindu "fundamentalism". This is a ludicrous charge unrelated to facts on the ground. Hinduism celebrates diversity and has always been wholeheartedly pluralist. It emphasizes the concept of Sarva Dharma Samabhava i.e. the equal excellence of all religions. Hinduism is a religion of peace and accommodation. One can use its principles to facilitate inter-ethnic understanding and tolerance in Sri Lanka.

Kumbakarana misinterprets the Hindu concept of the Atman and the Bhagavad Geeta. He also misunderstands eminent Tamil Hindu statesmen such as Sir P. Arunachalam and Sir. P. Ramanathan who laboured hard towards Hindu-Buddhist unity. Sir Arunachalam, the first President of the Ceylon National Congress, translated several Hindu and Buddhist classics into English. Sir Ramanathan defended Sinhalese interests in the colonial government's harsh crackdown in 1915. He worked for the declaration of Vesak as a public holiday. Other Hindu leaders such as Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy and Dr.Ananda Coomaraswamy celebrated Hindu-Buddhist tradition, philosophy and aesthetics.

Tamil militancy is not linked to the Hindu renewal witnessed in India, Trinidad, Fiji and Mauritius. Non-Hindus instead helped define Tamil secessionist ideology in Sri Lanka. Samuel James Chelvanayakam, a pious Christian, started the TULF and popularized the idea of Eelam in 1974. The churches continue to exert significant influence over the LTTE. Father Singarayar and Father Singaraja were very directly involved with the LTTE. Charles Anthony led the northern brigade of the LTTE, while Lawrence Thilakar headed the LTTE's outfit in Europe. Anton Balasingham is the lead ideologue of the LTTE. The World Council of Churches often disseminates the LTTE viewpoint abroad, while Radio Veritas continues to broadcast LTTE perspectives. There is no comparable link between Hindu organizations and the LTTE.

I appeal that the likes of Kumbakarana stop using the columns of The Sunday Times to make oblique criticisms of the Hindu religion. The need of the hour is inter-religious dialogue, not slander and defamation.

D. Kandiah
Colombo 12

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