Customs Services Union goes to FCID

All Ceylon Customs Services Union (ACCSU) lodged a complaint with the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) a short while ago, General Secretary of the ACCSU J.A. Gunathilake said.

The complaint was lodged regarding a large scale customs fraud amounting to over Rs one billion payable as import duty levies on 212 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado TRJ vehicles which have been imported by several vehicle importers.

Director General of the Department of Customs will try to justify his decision to release the vehicle after levying an import duty of Rs 1.6 million per vehicle at the press conference he has convened today (18), Gunathilake further noted.

-Ceylontoday

Farmers meet President

The Govijana Association had a discussion with President Maithripala Sirisena at Temple Trees a short while ago. The Govijana Association today stated that the farming community was ready to come to President’s House on the 17th with their farming equipment and mud on the body, wearing span cloth (Amude) to express their protest for curtailing the fertilizer subsidy and reducing the guaranteed price for rice.

The Association’s National Organizer Namal Karunaratne said more problems have arisen with the budget proposals this time due to moves to reduce the famer pension by Rs. 50/- and allegedly provide farmers’ lands to multinational companies. He further said the allowance of Rs. 25,000 payable to a farmer each year on behalf of fertilizer subsidy was not sufficient and a farmer would thus have to bear a loss of around Rs. 7,000 for each acre.

Government turns flexible as TUs flex muscles

On Monday the Trade Unions that had scheduled a strike on Wednesday over certain demands affecting their wages and other conditions of work called it off after negotiations with the Government. These demands were basically against certain budget proposals. The Government has now agreed to amend certain of them and to have further discussions with the Unions over some others before arriving at a final decision.

Among the revised proposals are the reduction of the fee for Vehicle Emission Tests, the addition of the RS 10,000 allowance given to public servants to their basic wage in three instalments beginning with RS. 2,000 in January 2016, a pledge to bringing in legislation next January to make provision for private sector employees to receive an allowance of Rs 2,500 from Mid-2016.

In addition the question of changing the structure of the pensions of new entrants to the public service from January 1, 2016 as well as several other matters were left for discussions with the trade unions. Even earlier the Government had revised some other budget proposals almost creating a precedent of listening to public demands in budget making. The problem, however, started with the unilateral decision making by the Cabinet without discussions with concerned parties. Proposals were, of course, called for but unlike those from the trade chambers those of the TUS were not given proper attention, thus generating a certain ill feeling among those sections of the working population that earnestly worked to bring the present government into power.

Demands of working population

The present situation is a win-win situation for both sides. The Government by accommodating certain demands of the working population would continue to have their goodwill and the Unions have actually won some of their demands at least to a certain extent, given the precarious fiscal situation in the country.

Of course economic wizards would disagree. May be others, especially the conservative elements would see a sell out to the unions while a section of the Unions may call it a sell out to the Government. Anyway it is a compromise and a pragmatic compromise at that.

As we have pointed out in this column earlier economics cannot be divorced from politics. No government could ignore the popular demands by pointing to scriptures from holy economic textbooks if it wishes to continue in office without a hassle. On the other hand those that take intransigent positions solely on the basis of their own interest run the risk of giving into the wishes of the principal enemy of the moment who is waiting for an opportunity to wrest back power.

Incidentally we saw during the last few week both inside and outside Parliament the tragi-comic spectacle of discarded politicians and a few dozen individuals hanging round the ex-President raising their voices to the skies criticising the budget for placing burdens on the people. Even the gentleman who challenged all to disprove his thesis of having three square meals a day for Rs 2,500 a month was vocal decrying the present government for many ills which they could not eradicate when in power for 10 long years.

Public and private sectors

What the government should understand is the enormity of the challenges it faces and the need for maximum unity and consensus among the people of all nationalities, religions irrespective of their social status or standing. Needless to say the working people both in public and private sectors constitute a sizeable population who would have a decisive say in facing many challenges, especially in finding a solution to the vexed national question, the solution of which cannot be postponed at any event. Even the best of economic solutions would be useless if the social fabric disintegrates due to lack of cohesion or socio-political stability.

Also there is an imperative need to charter a path of economic development that is both independent and humane. Relying unqualified export promotion without due consideration to the need for value addition of export products through the application of developed technology and opening the doors for foreign investment without safeguards for local industries and selection of priority spheres would not help. For example development without increasing local production would not be able to free the country of the debt burden as it would not generate substantial new wealth. As is well known many high profile development projects of the last government had low benefits to the mass of the people and did not generate new wealth.

Infrastructure development projects such as the Mattala Airport or the Hambantota Port or urban beautification though not irrelevant were nevertheless did not deserve priority allocation scarce resources, often obtained from foreign sources at prices too dear. Human resource development and Research and Development expenditure still remain at a low level compared to other countries in the region. The former at best is restricted to development of middle level technicians for export promotion industries without developing tertiary level professionals capable of undertaking research and development projects.

Common criminals

Considering the overwhelming atmosphere of corruption and fraud, especially in the public sector and the prevailing apathy of the public as well as the weaknesses and failures of the judicial system no budgetary allocations would be rationally and prudently expended unless we install credible cost-accounting and management best practices and update the local judicial system and uphold the rule of law.

Also we have to eliminate the culture of impunity provided to all types of wrong-doers from politicians and public officials to the lowest strata of common criminals. All this requires a heightened public consciousness of the people and an invigorated civil society. The agitation over the budget, in this respect, is a welcome development that must be nurtured and not suppressed. Likewise the culture of discussion and consensus a la Lichchavi style or not is also welcome.

Two Petitions Filed Against Bills Criminalizing Hate Speech

Two petitions were filed in the Supreme Courts yesterday challenging the constitutionality of Bill titled ‘Penal Code (Amendment) Bill’ placed on the Order Paper.

The Bill seeks to introduce a new provision (Section 291C) to the Penal Code, No. 11 of 1887. A further Bill seeking to amend the Criminal Procedure Code Act, No. 15 of 1979 was also placed on the Order Paper.

The petitioner Arun Arokianathan, the Editor-in-Chief of Sudar Oli, urged Supreme Courts to “Declare the Bill titled ‘Penal Code (Amendment) Bill’ and/or any one or more of its provisions as being inconsistent with Articles 10 and 14(1)(a) of the Constitution, and therefore may only be enacted by following the procedure laid down in Article 83 of the Constitution”

M. A. Sumanthiran is appearing for the petitioner.

We give below the text of two Petitions filed in the Supreme Court.

Click here and here to read.

Tamil Refugees In Tamil Nadu; Return To Their Native Land

S. Sivathasan
S. Sivathasan

“Will they be thinking of their own land?
Longing for the day to see it again, or
will they dream of their Mother’s abode?
They have wept and wept;
And wept and wept again.
Now they have lost their strength,
Even to weep any more”

A century old song of Bharathy in Tamil, on the plight of Tamil expatriate labour in the cane fields of Fiji.

Urge to be Back

If the above lines that melt anybody’s heart, do not apply harshly to the condition of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, the benign treatment they have received would explain. Ethnic affinity has played its part. But having run its course, it is on its way yielding to fresh compulsions. However benevolent the host is, overstaying one’s welcome for decades and beyond, needs rethinking. For thoughts of a return to their land of birth, political environment is changing with a new government in position. Ground conditions too are turning for the better.Tamil Refugees In Tamilnadu

The country will soon see a return of the prodigals. About all what conditioned their past as exiles and what impels a life reborn, one may hold with the lines of Sir Walter Scott.

“BREATHES there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand?”

Not too “foreign” and not too far one would say. To the reality of renascent lives, both governments Indian and Sri Lankan would certainly respond positively and happily.

Logistics

Moving with poets is comfortable and pleasurable too. Not as much is the nitty gritty of seeing the operation through. A population of 120,000 comprising 3 generations call to be transplanted. Documentation from Birth Certificates to Passports is basic. The administration on both sides is equipped for the whole gamut of clerical operations. What is needed is to dedicate these cadres specifically to this operation. As protracted will be logistics for land transport to Rameshwaram and thence by ferry to Talaimannar. Air travel may be extended to the infirm and children.

Colombo to Jaffna 1983

The above operation has given us a great deal of experience. When the hour strikes, Sri Lanka responds. To 30,000 refugees by ship to Jaffna, much had to be done. Volunteers from many a strata happily came forward. Officials to engage with colleagues in Colombo and Jaffna, medical specialists and other personnel to attend to refugee needs were at hand. Very many society leaders and ladies provided food and drinks on arrival. Provisions flowed freely. Of invaluable assistance was free transport from KKS to refugee homes given in familial spirit by VAN DRIVERS. There was little time for planning and execution. Yet the effort spread over 5 weeks was a saga of success.

India to Sri Lanka 2016

Refugees to and from India at four times the 1983 numbers, is a different proposition. Organization needed for this long drawn out operation may last two years if the inflow per week is 1000. When they spread out to the North and East of Sri Lanka to settle down in towns and villages, accommodation and food on a prolonged basis will become necessary till they become self-supporting. Schooling will call for proactive responses from Principals and departmental officials.

Amidst the odds those who have roughed it out, burnt their midnight oil and made good their future would require sympathetic consideration. They are about 3,500 graduates. Not to be ignored but deserving attention are those qualified at Advanced Level or its equivalent. In this area governmental intervention will be needed. They will certainly sustain their families when they turn income earners.

Private Sector

Not leaving all responsibility to the government, but with capacity to take a share is the private sector. Captains in that wealthy segment will certainly extend their cooperation. Voluntary associations can take this as an opportunity to have them absorbed in the private sector. Younger ones not in the employable stream yet, can be adopted to be suitably trained. The better placed in society owe this duty by those battered for long. Employment is the ‘Fatted Calf’ that will sustain the prodigal families. Sri Lankan society aware of it fully can easily meet it.

A Rare Challenge

Receiving a human transplant of one’s own kind seldom happens. To minds empathetically conditioned, it can be a happy occasion. The writer was able to see such a happening at Trincomalee harbour in 2003. With all issues methodically attended to at Chennai end with personal attention by the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner Sumith Nakalanda, 55 refugees engaged in fishing returned to Trincomalee in 53 boats. They were received with eats and drinks by AGA Arumainayagam who bore the brunt of the work. He is now GA Kilinochchi.

What was unique was the very friendly reception extended by officials of the Navy, Immigration officials and Customs officials. On display was Sri Lankan culture at its best. A repeat performance at Thalai Mannar and Palali can be looked forward to. This will be a challenge to draw on one’s stamina for two years.

S. Sivathasan

Article 19 Urges Sri Lankan Parliament To Adopt Draft RTI Act

Article 19 has urged the Sri Lankan parliament to adopt the draft Right to Information Act put forward by the cabinet, which if passed as is, would be one of the best in the world.

Article 19’s Executive Director Thomas Hughes

“The draft Right to Information Act put forward by Cabinet would firmly protect the right in law and therefore we urge parliament to adopt the Act without changes, so that the people of Sri Lanka can being to use it,” said Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.

“Once adopted, the next few years will be a crucial test: having a good Act does not necessarily result in a transparent and accountable government. Experiences from neighbouring countries show that the hard work is about to begin: to ensure that information officers are quickly appointed and trained, and civil society needs to begin requesting as soon as possible.”

On 2 December 2015, the Sri Lankan Cabinet approved the draft Right to Information Act and sent it for discussion at the provincial level before being put to parliament. The draft Act has a number of excellent features:

  1. It provides for a strong and independent information commission that will be able to order the release of information being withheld by public bodies
  2. It provides seats on the information commission for civil society and media representatives
  3. It includes a broad public interest test for nearly all exemptions. This test will limit the application of exemptions where there is a greater public interest in the release of the information. Furthermore, many of the exemption also contain a specific public interest test too
  4. It specifically overrides other existing laws that may conflict with it
  5. It limits the restrictions on information that is over 10 years old.

There are a number of provisions that could be improved by Parliament:

  1. The draft Act limits the right to Sri Lankan citizens only. However, information, like other human rights, should be available to everyone. Many marginalised people or those displaced by conflict may not have citizenship or evidence of citizenship and would therefore be denied their right
  2. The exemptions on information relating to defence, national security and trade negotiations could be further limited with a requirement that the exemption only applies to the release of such information that is likely to cause serious harm
  3. The long time limits could be reduced. Currently, officials are given 14 working days to decide whether to release the information, and a further 14 days to actually do so. Officials also have the ability to extend the deadline for a further 21 working days. In total, 49 working days, or 10 weeks, is a comparatively long time.

A law protecting the right to freedom of information was a key manifesto pledge of the current government. ARTICLE 19 reviewed an earlier draft of the bill in February and May 2015, and met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in May to discuss the bill’s shortcomings as part of a post-election media freedom mission.

Upon Sri Lanka adopting the law, South Asia will become one of the leading regions in legislating to protect the right to information. A map of states with right to information laws is available on the ARTICLE 19’s website, which includes the laws in Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan.

ARTICLE 19 reviewed all the right to information laws in the Asia region, pinpointing their strengths and weaknesses in the report ‘Asia Disclosed’ published September 2015.

BBS Gnasara’s Suicide Jackets Claim: Muslim Council Goes To Police Commission

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) has today urged the Inspector General of Police and the National Police commission to inquire into the latest charges made by monk Galagoda Atte Gnanasara of the Bodu Bala Sena claiming that the police found suicide jackets in a Muslim home down Kawdana road. MCSL has also requested the IGP to take immediate action against Gnanasara Thero if he was lying as this charge could cause hate against the Muslims.

We publish below the statement in full;

Gnanasara

December 16th 2015

The Inspector General of Police
Police Headquarters
Colombo 1

Dear Sir,

It is with much concern that we wish to bring to your notice, a statement made by Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which could be seen from the enclosed DVD. He has accused the Muslims of harboring extremists and planning a major military attack on Sri Lanka with the support of international terrorists. You will note in the enclosed DVD that he has specifically accused the Muslims of hoarding suicide jackets and harboring terrorists in a private residence in Kawdana, Dehiwela.

You will no doubt give very serious attention to the statement made by Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero that would warrant an immediate investigation by yourself. Given the portrayal of the Muslim community in a very detrimental manner, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka calls upon your good-self to conduct an impartial inquiry and take appropriate action.

Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thero’s recent statement is obviously to restart the hate campaign that existed before the Presidential elections 8th of January 2015, by targeting the Muslim and other minority communities. As you are aware, there have been over 540 incidents of violence, intimidation and hate carried out by extremist groups like the BBS against the Muslims and over 511 incidents against the evangelical Christians during the last three years. Mosques, Churches and prayer centers have been systematically targeted and destroyed. Despite several representations, no proper police action has been taken against these those responsible for such acts at that time.

Given the independence of the Police since January 2015, we are hopeful that appropriate and urgent action will be taken by you on the above and if the accusations are found to be false, to punish those responsible for hate campaigns and disrupting peace in the country.

I thank you for your kind and immediate attention.

Yours sincerely

N M Ameen
President

CC: Chairperson National Police Commission

Health Minister counters critics on allocations made to Ministry

Two hundred and fifteen billion rupees had been allocated for the health sector through the 2016 budget though attempts were being made in some quarters to mislead the public, Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said at the opening of a new four storeyed building worth Rs. 320 million at the Castle Street Hospital for Women early this week. He said a certain official of the Health Ministry had returned World Bank funds that had been given to it stating that the work could not be carried out. It was later disclosed that the particular official was going abroad.

“When the Health Ministry is endeavouring to obtain international funds to uplift free health services in the country, some of its officials don’t utilise them” Dr Senaratne said.

Steps were being taken to raid pharmacies with the help of the Consumer Affairs Authority with effect from next year, the Minister said. “We cannot allow business magnates to manipulate and control prices of medicinal drugs. There was a shortage of 45 to 75 types of drugs in the public health service at the time I took over the Health Ministry. However steps would be taken to import 40 billion worth medicinal drugs to the country by next year.”

Docs step up campaign against private medical college

Government doctors who have been agitating against the Malabe private medical college yesterday demanded that the state take it over.

General Secretary of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Dr Nalinda Herath said that disgruntled branch unions had informed its Executive Committee that steps should also be taken to ascertain whether the PMC had followed government approved standards in admitting students to it.

Dr. Herath said since 2010 the GMOA had continually stressed that the PMC did not confirm to the required standards. The fact was evident even in the gazette notification issued by the Minister of Higher Education at the time. Even the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) had highlighted inadequacies at that institution.

The GMOA Secretary accused the Health Ministry of taking decisions without conferring with the GMOA and against the recommendations of the SLMC. The GMOA branch Unions had expressed their displeasure at a Health Ministry decision to provide clinical training for PMC students at the Avissawella Base Hospital and Kaduwela MoH area.

“Our branch unions strongly believe that if Malabe students are to undergo clinical training in government health institutions it should be ascertained whether they have the required qualifications,” Dr Herath said. Steps should be taken to look into their G.C.E. Ordinary level and Advanced level results, he stressed.

The GMOA General Secretary warned that his union was not ready to allow political connections and influence to stop them from intervening on behalf of patients’ rights.

-Dilanthi Jayamanne

University students up in arms against MoH undertaking

Medical students of Universities of Colombo and Kelaniya have staged a demonstration in front of their respective faculties today (16), Convenor of Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Lahiru Weerasekara told Ceylon Today Online.

The demonstrations were staged in protest to the undertaking given by Ministry of Health to the Supreme Court yesterday (15). Ministry of Health gave an undertake to provide clinical training to the students of South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) at Avissawella Base Hospital and Kaduwela MOH.

General Student Unions of Universities of Peradeniya, Sabaragamuwa and Ruhuna are also protesting against the undertaking given by Ministry of Health, Weerasekara added.

-Ceylontoday