7th May, 2006  Volume 12, Issue 43

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                                    


Facts speak for themselves

FROM the day we got independence we have been talking of all ‘isms,’ be it capitalism, communism, socialism, secularism, communalism, castism, religionism and what not. But in our view the only ‘ism’ that is relevant is — patriotism — the least discussed ‘ism.’

Before independence Sri Lanka was one country, one people, and was known for its communal harmony among all people namely the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers etc. who lived together in peace and harmony for generations. But today the fair and smiling faces are marred by violence all the time. Earlier we considered ourselves Sri Lankans — just that and nothing else.

S. Wijesekera

The 100 m ban on building

I AM a Sri Lankan who has lived abroad since 1949 with the exception of a short residency in Sri Lanka from 1953 to 1956. I am however very proud of my homeland and on every opportunity, I advertise this ‘island of serendipity.’ Since 1967, I have visited ‘my home’ almost annually.

In 1995, while in Toronto, I read an article in a newspaper about a poor fisherman called Erolis and his family’s plight. The article was written to get the attention of the Fisheries Department so as to get a pension. He had no means of livelihood as his leg was amputated after being hit by a careless, irresponsible driver who sped away.

At the time, there was an arranged marriage agreed between Erolis and a young woman. Following the accident, he offered to release the woman, as he had no ability to support a family. As a true sign of commitment, this lovely woman refused his offer and said they could work together to support a family. Unfortunately, while pregnant with their third child, she suffered an attack of Japanese encephalitis and got paralysed from the waist down.

The article in The Observer caught my attention and I contacted the correspondent to satisfy myself that the story was accurate. With help from neighbours in Toronto and others in Sri Lanka, I built the family a home in Payagala South on the seacoast with water tank and electricity in 1997.

On Boxing Day 2004, I was horrified to see the news stories about the tsunami. I was anxious to find out about the Erolis family. On December 28, I saw the pictures of the damaged train track in Payagala in the Toronto newspaper and I feared the worst. On January 2, my prayers were answered when I was informed by phone that the Erolis family had survived and were in a refugee camp. They had lost the house I built them and all their belongings; but, they were safe. I wanted to help get them out of the refugee camp but did not know how to be helpful from 10,000 miles away and especially with the government banning reconstruction on the land owned by the Erolis family.

The world is getting smaller and thankfully there are many kind people who will reach out to help those in need. To my surprise and joy, a German family stepped forward to build the family a replacement house on another piece of land. I have just returned from Sri Lanka where I visited the Erolis family in their new home.

While government officials apparently continue to allow wealthy hotel owners to build on the sea coast, poor families and fisher folk who depend on the sea for a livelihood are banned by the misguided ban of new housing within 100 meters from the sea. The decision to relegate families to refugee camps made by officials in their comfortable offices has deprived many families of rebuilding their homes and lives quickly. I thank God that some individuals and NGOs such as the Red Cross are doing their part to alleviate the suffering of the poor after the tsunami.

The government has made the irresponsible promise to get Sri Lanka out of poverty by 2015. The government has an immense task of rebuilding the country and there is a lot of goodwill from Sri Lankans like myself, foreign governments and people around the world. Instead of foolish statements that are impractical, government leaders should concentrate on realistic progammes to steadily improve the lives of our poor citizens.

Gladys Struys

Useless propaganda rallies

I DO not think that the intelligent voters of this country appreciate the present trend of massive political rallies, street marches, expensive life-size cutouts of leaders, TV ads etc., which interrupt even popular teledramas; and the distribution of tonnes of leaflets of contestants to the public. This is wastage of money collected from their cronies, and is a hindrance to the normal life of all peace-loving citizens.

It is absolutely unnecessary for the UNP to emulate extremist Marxist parties and organise these public shows, which are ridiculed by the ‘silent non-voter’ whose percentage was seen during the last elections. These street parades and rallies are good for the radical groups whose only objective is to grab power either at the centre or at village level, by shouting slogans, distorting facts and repeating them over and over again, so that the gullible masses will be virtually forced to register these lies as facts. The UNP masses too will be forced to register these lies as facts.

The UNP if it is really united in its founding principles, and is really national in its objectives, it is time it gave up these futile tactics, and adopted new methods of propaganda which would convince the rural as well as the urban folks, instead of dishing out only promises which they cannot fulfill during their six year term of office.

The UNP should after sorting out its internal problems which were caused mainly by those who crossed over from other parties with different ideologies, come out with facts of what the UNP has done for the masses — such as colonisation projects in the NCP, Galoya Project, tank renovations, Million Houses Project, and the massive Mahaweli projects done with foreign funding and also explain that the UNP had to privatise so many loss making state-owned ventures which were a burden to the state and caused massive budget deficits. The UNP should also correct the distortions of the JVP and other extremists who want to grab power by criticising the UNP.

The UNP should also launch a massive propaganda campaign to educate the misled youth who will be future leaders of the country. These young people do not know the work UNP regimes have done and it is opportune that a chronological list is prepared giving such facts and figures, before launching an attack on the JVP by exposing all what they have done from 1971.

Senior Citizen

Open letter to Commissioner General of Inland Revenue

An interesting communiqué has been issued both to the Sinhala and English media that only about 100,000 people pay tax and that in Malaysia, which has a population almost equal to Sri Lanka, there are about three million taxpayers. The question I wish to pose to the Commissioner General is whether in Malaysia top government servants earning above the tax threshold are allowed tax-free status on their emoluments as in Sri Lanka.

To my knowledge nowhere in the democratic world is such an unfair system adopted. Our closest neighbour India does not practice such a discriminatory system. Is the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue of Malaysia not liable for income tax on his salary? Please Sir; enlighten the public on this matter.

If our top public officials who receive over and above the tax threshold are requested to have a tax file and pay income tax as other citizens do; the number of tax files will increase tremendously and with it the tax on undeclared income too. This will naturally have a positive effect in the reduction of corrupt practices in which public officials are involved and increase government revenue.

If not for the tough and straightforward Auditor-General the VAT scam would not have surfaced and the culprits would have gone scot-free. Had there been tax files for Tax Department officials, that alone would have served as a deterrent. The tax chief is threatening to open tax files for doctors, persons who go abroad more than twice and people who run up large electricity/telephone bills. It is a very good idea. But this will only be so if the activities of all public officials too are monitored.

Did he know about the number of overseas trips done by the VAT suspects of his department? Does he know about the public officials who undertake so many trips abroad? How such trips are financed etc? The number of houses. vehicles and estates they own? Are not public officials more prone to corruption than a normal private sector person?

In conclusion I wish to stress that with huge salary increases and perks such as official vehicles, housing, free telephones etc. for public officials it is most unfair to keep on targeting the hard working private sector which contributes much by way of direct and indirect taxes to provide a better future for the top public servant. There should only be one policy on tax and that is all persons irrespective of the position they hold should pay income tax, as done in civilised society the world over. This is a most important step towards developing Sri Lanka.

I hope that this letter would act as a thought provoking suggestion to all tax payers as well as the President who is in a position to change this most draconian law to ensure an equal fiscal policy to all citizens of this country.

Tax paying citizen

Who wants to change the clock?

ALL the donkeys that carry heavy weights,

No doubt, love the clock turned back,

Because then the sun sets early,

And earlier they can hit the sack.

All the buffaloes in this country too,

Prefer GMT plus five thirty oh!

Because till masters rise in the morning,

Sleep they will, half an hour more.

All the muggers who hang around the town,

Never complain ‘bout changing the clock,

Since people return to homes after dark,

They can grab a necklace and run in a nick.

The rest of us, neither buffaloes nor donkeys,

Of course not muggers who rob at night,

Do not find any problem getting up early,

Because then only we save evening light.

Arthur Clarke, the sage no doubt,

Ask what wise men may wish most,

Stay with present time and march to future,

Or twist the clock and return to the past.

Neleendra Ranawaka



Professor Kingsley de Silva

"Lives of great men all remind us,

We can make our lives sublime,

And departing leaves behind us,

Foot prints on the sands of time."

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

PROFESSOR Kingsley de Silva was indeed a great man, a man who was an example and a source of inspiration and strength to many, one who has left indelible footprints on the sands of time.

He was a great obstetrician, a truly caring and compassionate doctor, dealing with his patients with sensitivity and understanding. His patience when dealing with overanxious mothers to be was remarkable. While not believing in auspicious times himself, he would often oblige a patient who requested that her baby be delivered at a particular time. I remember seeing Kingsley waiting in the surgeons’ changing room at Sri Jayewardenapura General Hospital at 2.30 a.m. When I asked him if he was waiting to do an emergency caesarian section, he replied that he was waiting to oblige a patient who wanted her baby delivered at 3 a.m !

I have never seen him agitated or flustered as a surgeon. He dealt with the life threatening complications of obstetrics with confidence, steering the patient to safety with consummate ease. In spite of his vast experience and skill, he always put the patient’s interest first, and was never too proud to call for help from surgical colleagues when indicated, using the combined expertise to literally drag the patients back from the jaws of death.

He would always come in at whatever time of day or night when his expertise was required, and he was always reachable, arriving at the hospital incredibly fast when called.

He was a great friend always ready to lend a helping hand and offer words of encouragement, or just being there for you when facing problems or disappointments. He was very concerned about healthy eating habits and would inform and advise us about the latest information on lowering cholesterol etc. He encouraged all of us to save, to put aside something for a rainy day. He advised those of us who had daughters to put aside a gold sovereign each birthday towards the expenses of the wedding at a future date.

He was a great husband and father taking tender, loving care of his wife Erani and two daughters Lathika and Suyama. I remember his telling me that he gets up early morning every day to make bed tea before waking his wife, as she was a bad asthmatic. His care and concern for her when she underwent surgery towards the end of last year was very touching.

He was a great teacher having taught many generations of medical students and trained many junior doctors and postgraduates. I believe that there are about 15 consultant obstetricians in practice today who owe their training to Kingsley. I first met Kingsley when I was a timid little intern way back in 1967, when he had just returned from England, having obtained his specialist qualifications. He was the resident obstetrician at the De Soysa Maternity Hospital, and it was from him that I learned to do my first forceps delivery and got moral support and guidance to do my first breech delivery.

He was a great disciplinarian, punctual and orderly in everything he did. I have never been able to arrive at the operating theatre before him for a surgery in 22 years; he always came almost 20 minutes early and waited patiently. He maintained meticulous notes on every patient, and his ward ran smoothly as he was very clear in his instructions and every one knew what was expected of them.

Most of all he was a great Christian, practicing what he believed. He followed the footsteps of Jesus in showing love, compassion and caring, forgiving those who wronged him, never bearing grudges, and like all truly great men he was humble.

I consider myself fortunate in working with him, being his colleague at Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital for 22 years, and I treasure the many happy memories he left behind.

Goodbye my friend till we meet one day on that beautiful shore.

Dr. Suriyakanthie Amarasekera

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