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JVP plans to strike back


It's tamasha time in Paradise


The SAARC heads of state and heads of government posing for the media with President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on April 3, 2007

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

As cost of living issues push people towards trade union action and demands for salary hikes to fight starvation, the Sri Lankan state has committed itself to two expensive projects this July-August. Two projects that could have waited.

Having committed Rs. 268 million to hold hasty provincial polls in the North Central and another Rs. 278 million for Sabaragamuwa Provinces - a year ahead of the scheduled date - the government has now committed another Rs. 2,800 million to hold the SAARC Summit in Colombo, again, a year ahead of schedule.

Astrology

But that seems to be the order of the day when holding elections busting millions of rupees and the decisions are largely influenced by astrological predictions. While the overburdened public is made to forego a salary hike and eke out a living, the government will host the SAARC Summit this July-August in the backdrop of a costly war, a collapsed economy, spiraling cost of living and India' fear of the island's ability to provide security to their visiting leaders.

Yet, Sri Lanka remains committed to holding the talk shop instead of the Maldives whose turn it is to host the regional summit.

Mammoth        

The government on Tuesday (8) presented a mammoth supplementary estimate to parliament for over Rs. 2,800 million to finance the upcoming SAARC Summit, luxury Benz cars et al scheduled to be held from July 27 to August 3 in Colombo.

The amount, according to the breakdown is Rs. 401,881,272 for recurrent expenditure and Rs. 2,478,299,069 for capital expenditure totaling to Rs. 2,880,180,332.

The supplementary estimate bearing Head 112, Programme 2 - 'Development Activities' quotes Rs. 401,881,272 as the recurrent expenditure additional provisions required. The 2008 estimate is undisclosed in the document submitted to parliament.

Under the above head, Rs.3, 270,000 is meant for personal emoluments. This is broken into Rs.1,500,000 as overtime and holiday payments and Rs.1,770,000 as other allowances.

Some Rs. 35,372,800 has been quoted for domestic traveling expenses.

According to the breakdown provided by the Foreign Ministry, the supplies requirement for the regional summit is a massive Rs.62, 835,485.

The above head is split into four sub heads that includes Rs. 6,640,550 for stationary and office requisites, Rs. 45,994,935 for fuel, Rs. 540,000 for diets and uniforms and Rs. 9,660,000 for other expenses.

Ear-marked

Some Rs. 4,500,000 has been earmarked for vehicle maintenance expenses. Besides, the proposed allocation for services is a mammoth Rs. 260,601,987. This will include Rs. 75,687,750 for transport, Rs. 6,800,000 for postal and communication, and Rs. 1,600,000 for electricity and water.

The allocation under 'other expenditure' is a massive Rs. 176,514,237. And this includes Rs. 52,629,670 for accommodation and Rs. 56,406,520 for entertainment.

Cultural activities

Rs.7,500,000 for cultural activities, Rs.28,050,000 for seminars and exhibitions, Rs. 3,500,000 for publications and advertisements, Rs. 1,200,000 for gifts and Rs. 15,247,500 for 'others' have also been allocated.

There is a proposed allocation of Rs. 35,300,000 to be transferred to public institutions.  The allocation will be split between the Colombo Municipal Council (Rs. 27,800,000) and the National Youth Services Council (Rs. 7,500,000).

As for capital expenditure, a total of Rs. 2,478,299,060 is quoted. Under the head 'rehabilitation and improvement of capital assets' which is meant for the improvement of buildings and structures, the allocation is to be Rs. 47,411,960.

For the acquisition of capital assets, the proposed budget is Rs. 2,091,700,000. This is split as Rs.1,598,000,000 for vehicles, Rs. 10,280,000 for furniture and equipment and Rs. 83,420,000 for plant, machinery and equipment.

Divided

The amount quoted for capital transfer is another Rs. 318,267,100. This will be divided between public institutions (Rs. 318,267,100) and the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (Rs. 123,267,100). 

Likewise, the amount quoted for other investments under the heading of other capital expenditure amounts to Rs. 20,920,000.

It is learned that the supplementary was presented as the decision to hold the summit here was reached after the annual estimates were approved for the year 2008 thus necessitating the making of provision for the SAARC Summit expenses that were not included in the annual ministry estimates.

Fork out

Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will receive a total of Rs. 354,417,497, Ministry of Cultural Affairs some Rs. 2,960,000 and the Department of Police Rs. 2,168,315,735.

The supplementary will also fork out Rs. 20,000,000 to the District Secretary of Kandy, Rs. 123,267,100 for the Bandaranaike International Conference Hall, Rs. 7,500,000 for the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) and Rs. 222,800,000 for the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).

The 15th SAARC Summit is being held in Sri Lanka despite it being Maldives' turn to host the regional event.


JVP plans to strike back


Army personnel manning a desk during the strike and (inset) K.D. Lalkantha

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The JVP after firing its first salvo against the government on July 10 by holding an island wide token strike and protests with workers attached to the public, private and estate sectors is to decide tomorrow (14), the next course of action to be adopted to win the demands of the workers.

The JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC), which consists of 366 public, private and estate sector trade unions, as part of its campaign to win several demands for the workers has after the July 10 campaign vowed to continue with the battle until the workers' demands were met by the government.

JVP Parliamentarian and NTUC Head, K.D. Lalkantha says that the steering committee of the NTUC would meet tomorrow (14) to discuss several issues.

He said that decisions would be made on how to continue with the agitation campaign and the next course of action to be adopted. It is to be decided if the trade unions would move for strike action that would last over two days.

Role of other unions

Also to be discussed is the role so far played by other trade unions in winning the demands and how best to proceed with them during the next stage.

According to Lalkantha, the NTUC is to also decide on how to overcome the state suppression on trade union action and the steps to be taken on the trade unionists who have been victimised by the government for participating in the July 10 strike.

Lalkantha says that the July 10 token strike was only the beginning of a long battle against the government, adding that it was going to be a tedious and risky trade union struggle given that the government would never agree to grant the demands without a fight.

"If a strike is to be a 100% success, essential services such as power, water supply and transport have to be stopped. The NTUC had no intention of crippling the essential services, as we did not want to place the people in difficulty. After all Thursday's strike was only a one day token strike," he said.

Lalkantha vowed that the struggle that commenced on the 10th would be intensified if the Rajapakse government continues to ignore the demands of the workers.

"The struggle will only end when the workers' demands are met. Till then there will be no turning back. How can a government that does not make any sacrifices expect the people to make all the sacrifices," Lalkantha questioned.

Not invited

According to the NTUC head, nearly 660 trade unions had joined the strike organised by the centre last week, while other trade unions were not invited, as it was only a token strike.

Despite threats, police intimidation and government propaganda through the state media to sabotage the strike, the token strike has been a success, he said.

According to Lalkantha, 70% of teachers, 95% of Central Mail Exchange staff, 60% of the railway staff and 94 locomotive drivers, 72% of hospital staff, 95% of the State Printing Corporation staff, 40% of the SLBC staff and 65% of the SLRC staff had joined the strike.

In addition, 75% of the Auditor General's Department staff, all employees of the National Film Corporation's Advertising and Counters, 50% of the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and 16 out of the 20 monitoring centres of the Meteorology Department had stayed away from their posts. The government however claimed the strike was a dismal failure.

Not agreeing, Lalkantha said that workers at estates in Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Welimada, Ratnapura and Matara too joined the strike.

However, President Mahinda Rajapakse two days before the island wide strike speaking to trade union representatives affiliated to the government had said that he was saddened by the fact that trade unions were resorting to strike action to gain political mileage at a time when soldiers were sacrificing their lives for the country and nation without expecting any returns.

Nothing wrong

As a labour leader and a former labour minister, Rajapakse had said, he did not see anything wrong in trade union action by workers to win their rights.

However, he had said it is sad to note that methods employed for winning demands that cannot be won through dialogue are now being used to gain political advantage.

Rajapakse in a bid to resolve the growing labor unrest, agreed to grant a salary hike of Rs. 625 along with the cost of living allowance of Rs. 375 till the next budget.

Union leaders expressed their objection to the President's offer of Rs. 1,000 saying the amount was insufficient.  The NTUC said the offer of Rs. 1,000 was a poor consolation when the demand was for a monthly increase of Rs. 5,000.

"The NTUC's demand for a minimum pay increase of Rs. 5,000 is based on the cost of living index, which had increased by 2,430 points since the last pay rise in 2006. As such the offer of Rs. 1,000 hardly meets the expectations of public servants who are struggling to make ends meet under difficult conditions," Lalkantha said.

Apart from the salary increase of Rs. 5,000 for the public and private sector workers, another demand made by the trade unions is the payment of the Rs. 2.50 cost of living allowance promised by the government in 2006 for each increasing cost of living index point.

Daily wages

In addition to the salary increment of Rs. 5,000 for the public and private sector employees, the NTUC has also demanded for an increase in the daily wages of the estate workers. They have called for the daily wage to be increased to Rs. 500 from Rs. 290.

Amidst the drastic increase in the cost of living index since 2006, the government has also decided to increase transport fares by a massive margin.

"Bus fares have been increased by 27.2%. Train fares have been increased over 100%, which is unbearable for the people. Therefore we have been compelled to add a new demand to our campaign, which is that train fares be reduced as it has been increased by 100, 200 and 400 percent adding a further burden to the ordinary people," Lalkantha said.

With the JVP breathing fire down a government that says it does not have sufficient funds to permit a wage increase; the battle of the workers is now likely to intensify with the Marxists out to prove they were neither down nor out.  


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