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The fate of university teachers in Sri Lanka

As university students, we respected our teachers and we hoped that some day we would be as learned as they were. We looked up to particular lecturers not only because of their knowledge of the subject they taught us or their ability to teach, but sometimes because of their open-mindedness - how they discussed ideas or provoked us by getting us to think.

For many different reasons, we had our favourites. We liked them when they were approachable and 'cool.' But we also had tremendous regard for the conscientious, conventional 'saree-wearing' teacher. We also liked lecturers who were different from the others, innovative in their teaching methods, creative in their thinking, original in their dress or eccentric in their ways.

We knew and admired those who had their works published in renowned journals, or authored books that were recognised internationally. The most popular were lecturers who were passionate about their research and other involvements outside the university as the wealth of knowledge they gained from these were shared with us in the classroom, making the lectures more interesting and thought provoking.

 When walking past the Faculty Club, we often overheard laughter, frequent arguments mostly about the state of the country and jokes about politicians. Usually, the lecturers in there were those who also represented the university at conferences in and outside the country, articulated ideas in the media or openly and fearlessly, could critique government policy decisions.

The university provided space where diversity and pluralism were acceptable and even encouraged and space given for dissent and debate.

Sadly, the situation is not quite the same today. Teaching has been affected to some extent. In some universities, previously popular courses are no longer offered, or have been modified if they dealt with so-called 'sensitive' issues and programmes put on hold. Lecturers involved in initiating/designing/teaching in such courses/programmes or collaborating with universities overseas are being directly or indirectly victimised.

Some have been removed from decision making positions within the university system, are not considered for promotions, or are ridiculed, leaving them with options such as resigning from the university or from the positions of power they previously held, taking sabbatical leave or simply lying low.

Visiting scholars are perceived as spies working for the international community to denounce government initiatives. Jealousies are also there amongst academics, for whatever said and done, the smarter lecturers are recognised locally and internationally. It is they who earn the awards, fellowships, scholarships that enable them to establish links with other academic institutions and return with fresh ideas to develop those new "dangerous" courses and teach in a "confrontational" manner that would rock the establishment.

It is also they who are invited to serve on boards, to undertake research and offered consultancies. But the university does not value their contribution.

Research commissioned from outside institutions is perceived as money making activities or a suspicious collaboration with international agencies, rather than eventually benefiting the university and students. In addition, particular areas of research (i.e conflict, rehabilitation, violence, IDPs, etc.) are considered threatening as they may expose failures of, or critique the government.

Incidentally, unlike in the good old days when academics could survive on their salaries, lecturers often have no option but to accept consultancies. True, lecturers are better off than many, but the fact of the matter is that salaries have remained more or less the same (Rs. 52,000 per month take home salary of a Senior Lecturer) for at least five to six years! After paying off house rent (Rs. 10,000), other bills (Rs. 17,000), children's school fees (Rs. 6000 x 2), petrol (Rs. 10,000), gas (Rs. 500), food (Rs. 15,000) etc. there is hardly any money left for medical expenses, books, extra-curricular activities of children, outings, gifts or clothes.

 Today, lecturers who earn an additional income through consultancies/research are perceived as neglecting their duties at the university by resorting to underhand activities, when most often, these activities eventually benefit teaching.

One consolation for me is that my university has not awarded PhDs to politicians... but I am also convinced that it is only a matter of time before all universities do the same.

Obviously, I want to remain anonymous. That is the only way to stay employed or even alive ... since lecturers are silenced if they dare to voice an opinion or dissent. I long for those days when teachers could say, do, wear anything and were respected only for their ideas and intellect. I shall remember those days with nostalgia.

Dr. Not So Happy

Hats off to DIG Mediwaka and the Homagama Police

The speedy action taken by the Homagama Police on the instructions of DIG (Ranges 3) Nimal Mediwaka to recover my stolen gold jewellery within 24 hours is truly commendable.

Upon realising that my house had been burgled and all my gold jewellery stolen, I immediately telephoned DIG Mediwaka and the Homagama Police for their assistance to trace the culprits and also recover my jewellery. 

That was on Tuesday, September 8.  Thereafter things started moving at lightning speed and my jewellery was recovered within 24 hours. Since the police always receive brickbats than bouquets and words of encouragement, I am writing of my experience for the information of the reading public.

I am ever grateful for the quick response I received from both the DIG and the HQI Homagama.

When I informed DIG Mediwaka of my loss I was asked to lodge a complaint at the Homagama Police and on the kind intervention of DIG Mediwaka a special police team headed by the Homagama HQI, Chief Inspector G.J. Nandana and OIC (Crimes), SI Susil Raymond was deployed for immediate action to trace the thieves.

Just a few minutes after my complaint, the Homagama Police swiftly started their investigation process preventing the thieves from disposing of the stolen jewellery. On the instructions of OIC Crimes, officers of the Police Finger Print Bureau and a special team visited my residence within a few hours of the crime to take fingerprints and also conduct other investigations. The keen interest taken by the police to crack this crime is highly commendable.

I could without any hesitation say that if not for the dedication of the Homagama Police, I would never have got back my jewellery. The many follow up visits by the Homagama Police to my residence after the crime perhaps gave jitters to the culprits and prevented them from trying to dispose the jewellery.

At a time when the entire Police Department is blamed for the fault of a handful of officers a bouquet of flowers would not be enough to praise the team at Homagama, and my special thanks go out to DIG Nimal Mediwaka, the Homagama HQI and IOC Crimes for a job well-done.

Nirmala Kannangara


Unauthorised deduction of Rs. 50 from pensioners

The Director General of Pensions (DGP) had Rs. 50 deducted from the February 2009 pension of the pensioners, illegally, to construct a 'holiday home' for the pensioners which the present day pensioners will never be able to use.

The Director General of Pensions had no right to get such a deduction made from the pensioners without their individual consent.  The DGP, has contravened administrative and financial regulations and has breached public service discipline.

 It is significant that certain Divisional Secretaries had declined to carry out the DGP's instructions, correctly so, and the deductions have not been made from all pensioners.

By letter dated  February 13,  addressed to the Director General of Pensions and copied to the Accountant, Pensions Branch, Divisional Secretariat, I requested a refund. Despite several reminders, and with the Public Administration Ministry deciding that the Rs. 50 should be refunded, no refund has been made up to date.  Is that not high handed action on the part of the DGP?

I addressed the Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs by letter dated August 12, requesting that I be informed as to how I could ensure a refund of the amount. So far even the receipt of the letter has not been acknowledged. What an example set by the very Ministry heading the public service.

It is now understood that the Director General of Pensions has decided to credit the unauthorised collection from the pensioners to the National Defence Fund and has instructed the Divisional Secretaries to obtain the consent of each pensioner for the purpose. Those who object will have the Rs. 50 refunded. However, no such communication has been received by the pensioners to date.

What right has the Director General of Pensions to take a decision in respect of the National Defence Fund, meddling with other people's money? It needs being pointed out that the pensioners have voluntarily contributed to projects, in cash and kind to help the IDPs and the armed forces and what the DGP has done amounts to highway robbery.

The amount deducted from each pensioner may be small but the principle involved and the irregularity committed by the DGP are too serious to go without correction and punishment. I would, in the circumstances, suggest that as a deterrent, the DGP be removed from the post with immediate effect and sent to the 'pool' prior to being sent on compulsory retirement after inquiry. We pensioners are eagerly waiting with open arms to welcome the DGP into our fold.

Upali S. Jayasekera

The hypocrisy of religious leaders 

Religious leaders, societies, organisations and social groups far from being a help to spiritual development are only proving to be a hindrance.

However lofty and pure the ideals in which religions were founded they have a natural tendency to degenerate in the hands of selfish individuals.  It becomes an instrument in their hands for acquisition of wealth, position, power and fame.  It is used sometimes as a political ladder by unscrupulous persons to gain political influence and thereby wealth and luxurious lives.

The currents generated by these people are very powerful that it would be suicidal to try to swim against them.  This state of affairs is known to many intelligent people but they are silent because they do not want to get unnecessarily involved in controversies.

However there is a solution to this problem.  Instead of trying to work with them or against them, one should follow the example set by Lord Buddha, and sever with one stroke our connection with the incorrigible hypocrisy that exists today in the name of religion.

Whether young baby elephants live or die is no concern for our religious leaders. They are after more important things.  They have no time to pay attention to baby elephants.

Many religious leaders today are like monkeys sitting on a treasure, the value of which they don't understand. It is not dogma they understand, but only rupees and cents.

Albert Ranatunge


A crying shame!

The article "Weeping widows of the BoC" appeared in this esteemed journal nearly four months ago.  But there hasn't been a whimper from the hierarchy of the Bank of Ceylon.  Either they are suffering from perpetual dementia or care a damn!

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has asked for an increase of her pension.  So is it a sin for the bank's widows to ask for more?

What has happened to the bank's billions?  Has it gone the "Golden Key" way or the "Shri Ram" way?

Now there is no alternative but to appeal to our fair minded President Mahinda Rajapakse to give the "Bankers to the nation" a wake up call.

R. Ilakunathan, for BoC Widows

Colombo 6

Archbishop and GSP +  

The Archbishop of Colombo,  Dr. Malcolm Ranjit has appealed to the European leaders to restore GSP+ and other benefits to Sri Lanka. Very good. The people will surely stand to benefit.

Can Archbishop Malcolm Ranjit also ask the President to release at least 100,000  of the IDPs suffering in the camps each month, until all of them have been sent home? Is the Archbishop satisfied that the President is not keeping the 300,000 IDPs in their camps under very trying conditions purely for his political purposes?

Can he also ask the President not to violate the Constitution and to appoint the Constitutional Council, which even the Supreme Court has asked him to do which he is refusing.

The rights of our people are guaranteed under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. Can the Archbishop please ask the President to give the people their democratic rights?  Does not the Archbishop realise he is treading on dangerous ground?

D. M. Perera

Colombo 15

Police - A misnomer in today's society 

Gone are the days people respected the police as the organised force which keeps law and order. I congratulate Brian Jansz of Pannipitiya on his well-explained article appearing in The Sunday Leader of September 13, which spoke, volumes about the lawless state of our society at present.

Gone are the days one could make an entry and expect action to be taken. They cannot at the very least control bus drivers who stop everywhere  but at the assigned halt as evidently seen at Nugegoda and Kohuwela  Junctions. Passing the buck on being short-staffed and fear of politicians who could transfer them for the flimsiest of reasons are their excuses for not keeping law and order.

They complacently break the laws they are supposed to uphold. Therefore, the public quite obviously show scant respect for this spent force. They will need more than just a national commission to make them effective as they were several decades ago.

Worried Citizen


Violation of patients' rights

It was heartening to hear that there will be a meeting of eminent personalities for `patient's rights' on September 26. One of the rights of patients totally disregarded by doctors is the right to seek treatment wherever they want to. Often if a patient has been treated at a private nursing home, government doctors refuse to follow up on these patients.

Sometimes patients are treated free at NGO organised clinics and even then this abuse seems to be happening. We have at least 2000 patients operated on for cataract every year absolutely free by a Saudi sponsored team with the approval of the Health Department. The patients consist of people from all walks of life. These doctors do a follow up check after two weeks absolutely free, even giving the medicines free.

If a patient needs a check up or treatment after that they go to a government hospital and often they are rudely asked to go and see the doctors who operated on them. The waiting list at most government eye clinics is about six months to one year and government doctors should be happy that their work load is reduced by the holding of such camps. Instead the doctors, nurses and even the labourers abuse the patients for having got the operation done privately.

Do they expect these poor patients to wait for one year blindly, without availing of a service that is available? Does the hospital staff have the right to refuse treatment to anyone? In short what it means is that if the patients do not get it done in these camps they would come to get it done privately by the hospital doctors.

Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai










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