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Friday 08 June 2001




Books as bridge-builders 
Making amends for the immense harm done to the Northern people twenty years ago through the burning of the prestigious Jaffna Public Library wouldn't prove easy, but it is heartening to find that some Southern hearts continue to have some space in them for the war-ravaged populace of the North. The Independent Television Network, for instance, has expressed its solidarity with this section of the people on account of the terrible loss it suffered as a result of the torching of the Jaffna Public Library, by donating a stock of books to three impoverished and ill-equipped schools in the Trincomalee district. 

In a striking gesture of racial amity, the books will be donated to a Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim school of the district. The underlying significance of the act was highlighted by Information and Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa who said at the handing over ceremony that through these donations, "We can clearly tell these people in the Northern and Eastern provinces that they are not alone in this ethnic conflict." 

It is such symbolic acts of unity and amity which rebuild broken bridges of humanity between North and South. They are also important catalysts in the hearts - and - minds war being conducted by the Government. We hope such gestures of solidarity and goodwill would continue until the ethnic problem is resolved and the Jaffna Public Library is rebuilt and rendered operational once again. 

At this juncture it would be relevant to ponder on some contrasts between those times of ethnic carnage and today. The destruction of the Jaffna Public Library by goon squads let loose by the then government, reflected a policy of brutally repressing the Tamil minority. Besides, such repression was carried out with perfect legal immunity. In terms of educational and spiritual progress, the loss suffered by the Northern populace through the destruction of the library is inestimable. 

By contrast we have a Government today which is striving hard to end the turmoil in the North-East and build ethnic peace on the basis of social justice. For this purpose it has in place a draft constitution which contains the basis for the resolution of the conflict. The then government didn't think of a political solution until external pressures compelled it to do so. 

What needs to be done is to popularise the draft constitution for which a vibrant public education program is essential. This is a responsibility of the State. Meanwhile, it is vital that the Government continues doggedly with its hearts and minds battle. Winning over the people is one of the most effective means of alienating the LTTE. By ensuring the educational needs of the North-East people, through gestures such as book donations, their faith in the State could be retained. 





An official with a Backbone
The day, we thought, would never come when a state bureaucrat plainly told a minister of state issuing dire threats: ‘No Mr. Minister, it cannot be done’. Yes, it has been told loud and clear by a senior official of the Ministry of Sports, according to a report in The Island. The report said that a minister had demanded from a high-ranking official that he stop taking action against a top official of the dissolved cricket board. On being threatened, the official had stood firm and said that he was ‘only doing his job’ and that he was ‘not in the payroll of any person’.

The days when our public service had men of such calibre ended with the 1972 constitution. Men of intellect and sturdy independence fast disappeared to be replaced by bureaucrats who were entirely at the mercy of politicians who were more often than not offensive, corrupt, uncouth and uneducated. But it does appear that a ‘living fossil’ – to use a zoological description – had survived the ravages of time. He can be described, once again in Zoological terms, as a Vertebrata, an animal with a backbone, Vertebrata having been rapidly replaced in the last two to three decades by the Invertebrata-those lacking a backbone.

It takes an official of sturdy independence, moral courage to take such a stance in our times. But to do that he also needs a minister quite different to the run-of-the-mill type to defend his officials. It is said in our report that this official who was also a senior official under the late Mr. Thondaman had refused ministry vehicles to be used by members of the minister’s family while he was abroad. It is quite apparent that the gross abuse of state vehicles that took place during the last general election could not have happened with officials of this calibre. Some reports say that some of the vehicles taken from some ministries have yet to be returned by the politicians who took them away.

The Sports Ministry that hit the depths of degradation a few years ago with the Susanthika Jayasinghe affair and now an attempt is being made by the present Minister of Sports, Mr. Lakshman Kiriella to clear the name of the ministry as well as cleanse sports bodies of corruption and rid them of gamblers and racketeers. Minister Kiriella has done well so far and given another one or two officials of the above variety, he would be able to achieve substantial success.

It is indeed regrettable that sports, not only in Sri Lanka but in the entire world of sports, have become tainted with corruption after rapid commercialisation during the last two to three decades. Today, sports persons have regrettably been reduced to the status of performing animals. For long racehorses have been made to over perform by doping or under perform by jockeys pulling back galloping horses. The fate of sportspersons appears to be heading the same way. Sportspersons take drugs to over perform, the difference with horses being that the poor animals have the dope forced on them while sporstpersons do so on their own. In under performing too, just as much the bookies fix races, sporting encounters such as cricket matches too are fixed by bookies.

While stringent measures are now being adopted against taking of drugs by sportspersons, steps taken by governing sports bodies to curb influencing performances and fixing matches are still in the embryonic stages. Investigators of the International Cricket Council on match fixing, having gone on a voyage of discovery around the world have finally gone back home to England to realise that it all began in the playing fields of Merry England.

Minister Kiriella should begin cleaning up the Augean stables with immediate effect. His primary task should be to protect sports from gamblers and racketeers who are making billions by corrupting sports and defeating the noble objectives of the games. The challenge will be first to keep gamblers and bookies – even if they were 'gentlemen bookies’ or the ‘bucket shop’ variety completely out of sports bodies. The law should be framed so that even those very remotely connected with such businesses are kept out because their tentacles spread far and wide.

Gamblers and bookies are extremely powerful and influential and we are seeing them challenge the high and mighty of the land.

And not every bureaucrat can be as heroic as the one who said: No, Mr. Minister. 

We need more officials like that and more ministers who can protect such officials.





Save the CWE
"CWE in dire straits," said our news report on Monday about this state owned premier consumer goods distributor. Why has this unfortunate fate befall this business establishment which had once been a profit making venture as any business enterprise ought to be? Reason obviously is mismanagement. The government and the CWE management, according to reports, have rejected the allegation of mismanagement, as expected and adduced different reasons for its parlous state. 

Independent assessments of he Organization, however, betray the truth of its inept and seemingly corrupt management.  The loss suffered by the CWE last year has been Rs. 1300 million. It owes the two state banks Rs. 9000 million. Its turnover has dropped in May to Rs. 300 million from the previous month's Rs. 750 million. Commercial institutions supplying goods and services to it are refusing to provide further credit. It is true that CWE's total turnover increased by 18 per cent to Rs. 8,090 million last year from Rs. 6,836 million reported in 1999 with 152 retail shops operating island-wide. The franchise shops network also expanded last year with the appointment of 193 new franchise dealers, according to the Central Bank report.

But what has the Auditor General said about its performances? The AG in his report for 1997 which is the latest available, has detected a series of accounting deficiencies and irregularities. Some of these are: the CWE had held sports goods for sale valued at Rs. 1,245,623 on consignment basis, but no consignment account had been prepared and furnished along with the accounts; a shortage of flour weighing 2,365,722 kgs recoverable from the Food Commissioner had been valued at Rs. 15.04 per kg instead of being valued at Rs 17.04 which was the cost to be recovered. Thereby the operational result had been understated by 4.7 million; a stock of flour weighing 2,495,000 kgs valued at Rs 39.3 million held at Food Commissioners Department had not been bought to account; instances have been observed where daily cash sales had been accumulated for several days without being deposited in the bank and so on. The final result of all these omissions and commissions had been that the establishment had incurred a net loss of over Rs. 740 million in 1997 compared with the net loss of over 256 million for the preceding year showing a further deterioration of the financial situation to the extent of Rs. 483 million. The CWE has thus incurred losses annually since 1994 and the accumulated loss exceeded the capital since the year 1995.

The management would argue that the CWE, which earlier dominated the trade scene under monopolistic conditions, has now to face fierce competition from the private sector. True. That this is why it has to be properly equipped with maximum efficiency bereft of wasting and corruption. It cannot compete in the open market when it purchases inferior quality goods at high prices and tries to sell them in a market where good quality goods are available at cheaper prices outside. This is what it has actually done, according to audit reports.  Then, the CWE also has not refrained from indulging in expenditure on extraneous enterprises. It has incurred a considerable expenditure on Mahapola, Sudu Nelum and other campaigns, sort of exercise in which business enterprises generally engage when they make profits.

It is really the disadvantaged sections of our people who suffer when public enterprises like the CWE and cooperative shops fail to operate efficiently. It is true that at times these institutions are compelled to offer at low prices goods purchased at high prices as method of keeping prices low, when black marketeers attempt to exploit shortages in essential consumer items. It has to be done, as these are service oriented state establishments. However, it is obviously not these rare occurrences that cause huge losses to the CWE. It is rather the malaise of political appointments and interferences, corruption and inefficiency that drive the CWE to dire straits.

Primarily, it is the duty of its employees who are always in the forefront to protect the CWE against possible disintegration, to give of their best to promote its efficiency and viability. Its destabilization will inevitably drive the consumer to the lap of the unscrupulous trader. 





Death due to negligence
A motorcyclist recently fell to his death, into a pit dug up by the Water Supply & Drainage Board on the Rajagiriya - Kotte road.  This tragedy was purely due to the negligence of the Board officials and workers.

It is true that digging of highways cannot be avoided for purposes of maintenance of the distribution pipe-lines.  But, it is the inescapable responsibility of both authorities and workers to ensure that once dug up, such pits and drains are either filled or protected with barriers and warnings to the public, as quickly as possible.

The reported accident had occurred due to the pit not being filled in a proper manner.  It is extremely sad how this negligence on the part of the Board officials to ensure proper filling up of this pit, led to the untimely death of a man.  We have often read how such negligence and sub-standard work had caused a number of tragedies on roads, in schools and other public places.  The country will never prosper until wanton neglect in this manner is stopped.





Empty drums
The Minister of Ports Development and Southern Development has reportedly rented out a super class office on the 12th floor of the World Trade Centre.  This is inspite of the government repeatedly saying all the while how State Institutions should act with great care, to avoid waste and unwarranted expenses.

This expensive office has been rented out while the Ministry has its own building, which was modernized in 1997 by late Minister Ashraff, at a staggering cost of Rs. 7 million.  Apart from this waste, the Minister has also set a bad example to the public, by allowing the overdue rent for this super class office, to accumulate into a staggering sum of Rs. 1 million.

The number of Ministries and state institutions, which owe massive amounts to the Ceylon Electricity Board and the CWE, are numerous.  All talk about the government departments and establishments avoiding waste and being frugal in expenses, ultimately mean nothing.  They are all mere empty drums.





A favourable declaration by UNP leader
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe has said in Thamil Nadu that his party will lend his support for the government's peace efforts.  This is like a welcome shower of rain, ending a prolonged drought.  All peace loving people would, doubtlessly, have been delighted to hear this.

Right from the very beginning, President Chandrika Kumaratunga's efforts to end the war and usher in peace were stalled due to the non-cooperation of the UNP.  However, there is no purpose in crying over spilt milk.  Let bygones be bygones!  We should now consider Mr. Wickremasinghe's statement optimistically.  However, very many might have serious reservations about this declaration and be doubtful whether our optimism will, ultimately, bear fruit.  This is due to the vast differences between his statements and actions seen in the past.

Politicians are known to express eloquent rhetoric before international audiences, but act in a diametrically opposed manner on reaching home soil. We trust, however, that Mr. Wickremasinghe will make an honest effort to implement what he has declared to the world while in Thamil Nadu.





Re-introduce price control 
There was a newspaper report about the government considering the use of Emergency Regulations to curb the price hike in consumer items, including milk foods.  We are at a loss to understand whether such regulations are essential to control the increasing prices of goods. 

The Central Bank has revealed that the Consumer Price Index had risen to 2,912.7 by the end of May.  It is surprising to realize that MPs, Ministers and senior officials await statistics in Central Bank reports to appreciate to what extent the people are burdened by the staggering Cost of Living.

As we see it, these increases are due to the removal of price control on consumer goods.  The government should re-introduce a system of price control, to bring down the cost of consumer items.  But, to do so, proper legal measures should be taken without merely trying to use Emergency Regulations for this purpose.




Increasing violence against women
There are daily accounts of violence against women.  Some of these incidents are highlighted in newspapers, but many others are simply suppressed.  Today, women of all ages are exposed to the risk of violence, whether at home or at their work places.  There is no safety for them anywhere.

Recent events have proved that the law and order situation in the country has deteriorated to its lowest ebb.  We, in our country, have no right to talk about human rights, when we cannot safeguard our women.  In a country where its Constitution provides equal treatment for men and women, women should be allowed to live as equals with men and enjoy the same freedom as is available to men.  The country can progress only when such freedom is made available to women.





Unite for the sake of the country
An appeal has been made for donations to the National Soldiers' Service Commission, established by President Chandrika Kumaratunga on last year's National Heroes Day.  The National Heroes Day is being commemorated not only for those who gave their lives for the sake of the country, but also those who were maimed while safeguarding the country.

The effects of the war are destruction and waste.  Lives are being lost on both sides and national assets are being destroyed.  It is not limited to the battlefront or the North and East only.  The whole country and all its people are affected in one way or another.  In this context, while seeking to stop this war, we should also remember those personally affected by the war.  Accordingly, generous donations should be made to this Commission, without any considerations of difference.





Wrong approaches
It is not going to be easy to move away from the war culture.  The path to peace is extremely difficult.  The approach to peace should be a well conceived one.  The ongoing peace process has stalled.  Correct approaches are necessary to move the peace process forward.

Government's refusal to lift the ban on the LTTE is not merely a prestige issue.  It is doing so, simply to mollify the Opposition and chauvinist forces.  The government has continued to engage in confrontational politics with the UNP, failing to establish friendly relations for the sake of obtaining the UNP support for solving the most pressing issue in this country, the ethnic issue.

The current dilemma is due to the wrong approaches by the government, which as well as the UNP, have carefully avoided angering the hardliners.  The Tamil parties have become mere non-entities in the face of confrontations between the government and the UNP.  They are overwhelmed by the various maneuvers employed by both the government and the UNP to defeat one another.  With the present stalemate in the peace process, nothing could be done, except to be mere observers of the antics employed by the government and the UNP in approaching peace efforts.



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Last Updated Date: September 25, 2003.

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