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5th February, 2006  Volume 12, Issue 30

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Letters

Should teachers be sent to jail?

I would like to briefly respond to R.L.N. Zoysa’s reply to my letter on the above subject.

I have raised two issues in respect of the Amendments to the Penal Code by Act. No. 22 of 1995 namely.

(1) That a child is deemed to be a person under 18 years of age under the Amendment.

Prior to the Amendment it was an offence to cause hurt to a child under 12 years of age. It must be noted that other enactment, like the Children And Young Persons Ordinance defined a child as a person under 12 years of age and a juvenile as a person under 14 years of age. This enactment has apparently not been repealed. Besides a person attains majority on reaching 18 years of age.

Most people have not realised the impact of a mandatory jail term. Where a mandatory jail term is prescribed by law, the judge has no discretion on the sentence to be given. He cannot take into consideration the age, state of health, the antecedents of the offender and his previous good character. These are guidelines internationally accepted to be considered by a Judge before any accused is sentenced. Under the present law one cannot plead in mitigation of the offence. This appears to be too harsh as teachers are not hard core criminals and deserve other forms of punishments such as a fine, payment of compensation, a binding over or even a suspended jail term.

The punishment must suit the crime. The policy of the law, I repeat is not to send first offenders to jail. This is not acceptable. This response is made in the public interest and is a matter which should be taken up by the Bar Association.

Anton Fernando
Colombo 7


Mahinda, the Sheriff of Nottingham

Mahinda Rajapakse, the poor man’s President, the man of the people, has in his maiden budget proposed to tax the poorest of the poor. Even people who earn less that Rs. 300,000 a year will now be taxed at 5%.

This means that even a person who earns Rs. 1,000 a month will have to pay Rs. 50 as tax! People who live solely on interest income, like mercantile retirees will have to pay 10% withholding tax on their interest income if they earn more than Rs. 9,000 a month. The irony of it is that if one gets Rs. 9,000 it is tax free, but if one gets Rs. 9,100 he has to pay Rs. 910 as tax. One is therefore compelled to deposit less money because for a mere Rs.100 more by way of interest, one pays nine times that amount as tax. This discourages people from saving which the people who do not receive government pensions badly need to do for their sunset years. How can a man who is said to be a good Buddhist, be so cruel and heartless?

If the government is unable to handle the economy why should people have to cough out more taxes to help them out of the mess? The private sector pays its staff from the profits it makes due to the hard work and dedication of its staff. They work longer hours, pay taxes, get lesser number of holidays and no pensions after retirement. Even their retirement benefits are taxed and the interest they earn on the hard earned money deposited in banks and financial institutions is taxed.

The public servants on the other hand are pampered by the government. Despite the soaring cost of living the tax free ceilings for private sector employees has not been raised. This is a grave injustice especially when public servants who contribute towards the billions in losses in their departments owing to their lethargy, inefficiency and corruption, are getting salary increases and bonuses.

Public servants should only be given salary increases and bonuses if they make their institutions profitable by hard work. It is comic that the pockets of private sector employees are picked to fatten the purses of public servants. Mahinda Rajapakse will tax even the lowest paid private sector employee to find the money to fulfil his election pledges.

Twenty five years ago a man could have supported his family with Rs. 1,000 a month. But now with Rs. 1,000 one can buy only a gas cylinder.

How can the country prosper when those who are unjustly taxed are cursing the government and their blue-eyed boys and girls? If the Queen of England can pay tax; if the President of the USA can pay tax; why cannot public sector officials in Sri Lanka pay tax too? Why not Mr. President?

A Mercantile Retiree
Wattala


Performance appraisal for ministers

With every change of government it is common to see impressive policy statements and promises being made by the newly elected leaders.

However, at the end of the period when the time comes to look back on the achievements, very often most of the promises have not been kept or the policy statements have been simply forgotten. Very often this happens because even the electorate does not hold the leaders accountable for their promises unless when an election is round the corner.

This culture has made our leaders complacent, unaccountable and prone to make irresponsible promises. Another reason why these promises go unfulfilled is because the officials appointed to head various departments, boards and corporations very often do not share the thinking of the political leaders appointed by the people and therefore do not feel accountable to the voters.

After working in the private sector for a long period, my view is that such lapses can be corrected by appraising the performance of ministers, MPs and heads of various departments, boards and corporations on an annual basis against targets set at the beginning of the year as done by private sector companies.

This will ensure that the targets and promises made are achieved or at least the reasons for failure are discussed. Ideally, the president can appraise the performance of cabinet ministers and they in turn could do it in respect of their ministry secretaries and so on, at least down to the head of department.

Another reason for failing to keep election promises is the appointing of wrong persons to head sensitive statutory bodies and corporations. Two such cases that stand out are the Governor of Central Bank and members of the Monetary Board. These are positions that can either make or break a government. The decisions they make are so sensitive and important to the economy, that they have to be men of the highest integrity and totally unbiased in making decisions. Therefore, the nominees should be those without strong connections to business or any lobby groups, thorough with the subject of public finance and economics, and be of unblemished character.

Sad to say these characteristics are not seen in most of the members holding these offices at present and this is reflected by the weak decision-making and, passing the buck attitude evidenced by the recent controversies surrounding attempts to take over private sector banks by a businessman with questionable credentials, violating the banking laws.

Therefore, it is up to the new President and the Minister of Finance to ensure that sensitive positions such as governor, Central Bank and members of the Monetary Board are filled by the right type of people who above all feel for the country and not for the various pressure groups.

D.M. Seneviratne
Nittambuwa


Who owns the playgrounds?

With the exception of the two stadiums in Colombo, hardly any other playground has been added since independence. The Nomads ground called Municipal grounds have been taken over for a building project, which should never have been permitted.

With the exception of the playgrounds belonging to the schools, almost all the other grounds belong to the municipality or government institutions, like the police, army and air force. The Echelon Square which had two large grounds side by side was sold at a meagre price to a Japanese-Sri Lankan consortium.

These historic buildings were destroyed all for the benefit of politicians and businessmen.

The grounds in Colombo can be divided into two categories.

a) The municipal grounds open to the public but restricted for the playing of games.

b) The grounds leased out by the various clubs from the municipality for long periods.

As I remember, since independence most of these clubs had hockey teams and played and hired their grounds for hockey.

When Ranasinghe Prema-dasa was prime minister he took over a part of the Colts Club, threatened to take over the BRC, the Rowing Club etc. These clubs had to appeal to the President through influential sources and save this tragic situation.

Now, coming back to my question, many readers may not be aware that the Cricket Board has laid restrictions on the use of the grounds of the clubs that play cricket. They are prohibited from playing any other game because the Cricket Board subsidises the maintenance of these grounds.

The Colts Club is just one example. They played serious hockey from 1980 and children from the surrounding areas also came to the grounds to play friendly football and softball matches. Now no one is allowed to play on this ground, and it is reserved for cricket only. What do the others do? Only the Cricket Board that can answer this question.

In the good old days the turf was separated from the rest of the ground and other games were encouraged, some clubs still follow that.

My contention is that the Cricket Board should spend time and money in establishing more and more playgrounds for the Sri Lankan youth than build stadiums which exercise helps the administrators to amass wealth.

It is for this reason alone that certain groups want to get hold of the machinery of the Cricket Board, of course with the blessing of the Sports Ministry and its officials. It is not logical that more open space will encourage our youth to vent their frustrations and energy in physical activity than restricting them by withdrawing the right to play in their home grounds, solely for the purpose of preserving these grounds for cricket only. No other sport in Sri Lanka can collect so much of money as cricket. Therefore if these grounds are to be kept for cricket alone, then the Cricket Board with the authorities concerned must find new venues all at their own expense for other sports. Over to you Mr.Minister.

Walter Fernando
Ratmalana


That open letter to JHU

A writer, covering himself with a cloak of anonymity in the guise of "A Buddhist" had written to The Sunday Leader of November 20, 2005, severely criticising the comments made by the JHU over the airlifting of an injured LTTE cadre. The writer had gone to the extent of voluminously quoting International Conventions etc.

Where was this "Buddhist" when a bus load of Buddhist priests were killed at Arantalawa; when 700 surrendered unarmed policemen were killed at point blank range; when the most sacred place of the Buddhists at Kandy was bombed; when Buddhist temples were vandalised and sometimes razed to the ground, details of which are available in the book written by Rev. Ellawala Medhananda, titled Our Heritage In The North And The East?

Moreover, when the request for the so called ‘airlift’ came, the government could have used it as a leverage to obtain the release of three totally innocent policemen, suffering in the custody of the LTTE for no fault of theirs. Doesn’t the "Buddhist’s" heart bleed for them, and feel the agony and the anguish experienced by their parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters. Aren’t they entitled to some sort of kindness from this "Buddhist." Can this Buddhist enlighten the readers as to whether all the International Conventions quoted by him are silent on the above acts of terrorism and if so why?

D. H. Gunadasa
Hikkaduwa


Rogesan Stanislaus

Appreciation

• Respected teacher of Anuradhapura

The funeral of Rogesan Stanislus, a former principal of St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura took place in Anuradhapura on December 18, 2005, amidst a large gathering of students, past students , teachers — past and present, friends and well-wishers and religious dignitaries.

Stanlislaus took up teaching at St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura in 1953 after graduating from the University of Madras. Within a short time, he became very popular among students and teachers of the college. He addressed the students – Thamby – meaning younger brother—and that affectionate term, not used by any other teacher before, forged a close link between him and the students. The students who left college for employment too maintained the relationships built up in school.

Stanislaus pioneered in forming a Social Science Club in the college. He encouraged the students and got them involved in shramadana activities like helping the devotees who flock to Anuradhapura during the Poson and Vesak festival seasons, visiting hospitals and inquiring from patients about their condition and writing post-cards /letters to their relatives and cleaning hospital wards etc.

No sooner this club was organised and put into action, his mind was directed towards another project—forming a cycling club. The inaugural cycle trip was organised to the Nachchiyaduwa reservoir site, 12 miles away from Anuradhapura. It was a one day trip and over 50 members cycled to Nachchiyaduwa and back. The second trip was to St. Anne’s Church, Talawila. This was a three day trip. The first night was spent at Kala Oya church premises, the second and third nights were spent at Talawila. The following morning the boys cycled back to Anuradhapura. Stanislaus organised many more trips to provide recreation and promote camaraderie among the students.

Although Stanislaus had been affected by polio, and walked with the help of specially made shoes, he cycled the entire distance with full spirit, enthusiasm and courage, leading the boys.

St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura was Stanny’s life blood. He loved the college so much, that he named his first born, a girl "Josephine."

Stanlaus, joined the academic staff of St. Joseph’s College in 1953 and rose up to the position of principal by dint of hard work, and continued in that office till his retirement in 1987. His presence at college functions even after his retirement was much sought after by the students and old boys alike.

To honour this dedicated principal, the old boys built a pavilion and named it ‘ Stanislaus Pavilion.’ This shows the loyalty, love and affection of the past students to an eminent principal.

He was a devoted Catholic, and prayed for the welfare of the students. Whenever a problem arose he was in church, praying fervently, seeking God’s intervention for a solution to that problem.

He was so devoted to his college and to Anuradhapura, that he had made a wish to be buried even under a tree in Anuradhapura. His wish was carried out to the letter by his students — past and present — amidst his bereaved family and relations.

May his soul rest in peace.

C. Abaya Tenne
President,
Old Boy’s Association – Colombo Branch,
St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura


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