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Ambassadors, please mind your business!




Perhaps, I should have titled this “US Ambassador, please mind your business” as she seems to be the busybody, doing her utmost to interfere in the internal affairs of our country; much against the accepted international diplomatic norms. But she is not in isolation, as there seem to be other ambassadors, too, though less repetitious than her, who seem to be under the impression that they are viceroys rather than ambassadors. Perhaps, it is not entirely their fault, as there are some political parties who regularly subservient themselves, helping these ambassadors to come to such grandiose assumptions. Of course, there are other embassies that seem keen on issuing statements on behalf of our Foreign Ministry. Then again, this happens because our Foreign Ministry seems to be in a state of eternal slumber! It looks as if this is the price we, as a country, have to pay for being in a strategic location where superpowers are fighting for dominance.

The latest tweet from the US Ambassador is about presidential pardons, a process misused not only by our presidents but also by presidents of her country, which is better at preaching than practice! To my knowledge, our ambassadors have not issued statements about the actions, even that need condemnation, of the presidents in her country. In the hard-hitting editorial “Presidency should be straitjacketed” (The Island, 26 June) which lays bare the naked hypocrisy of all concerned, there is a tongue-in-cheek agreement with the American Ambassador’s criticism of the presidential pardon for Duminda. Whilst wholeheartedly agreeing with the editor that there should be agreed procedures for presidential pardons than give a free-hand, as at present, going through the list of pardons he mentions, this does not seem the worst. Gota simply seems to have followed the hallowed traditions established by JR!

I, too, would have joined the chorus of heavy criticism of the President but for two reasons, the most important being the leaked telephone conversations between Rajan Ramanayaka and those involved in the case, which gave the impression that the punishment was ‘fixed’. My knowledge of the law is next to nothing, but a common-sense approach makes me wonder how a man who was already on the ground, after being shot, by the time the fatal shot was fired could be guilty of murder and imposed the death penalty. The said telephone conversations too support the theory advanced by some that guilt was manipulated or exaggerated. Aren’t those who manipulated the over-punishment as guilty as the President who found flimsy grounds for a pardon?

Whatever it is, it is an internal matter and should not be the concern of the US Ambassador. I do not need to exhibit the niceties of our editor to her, as I have nothing to lose by being blunt. Afterall, the only goal left in my life is the grave! Do we need lessons on justice from the ambassador of the country that has mass murderers on its payroll? Of course, I am referring to her ex-presidents who have destroyed many countries and killed thousands in the process; all in the name of good governance. George W Bush, at least, remains silent, unlike Saint Obama, who pops up frequently! Jointly, have they not destroyed the Middle East?

Gordon Brown, who was an excellent British Chancellor but a poor Prime Minister, revealed in a recent candid interview that the US purposely misled the British Government about weapons of mass destruction (WMD). When Tony Blair, another frequent pop-up, told the British Parliament that Saddam Hussain had WMDs that could be activated in 45 minutes, was he purposely telling lies to the British public or had he swallowed dead-ropes by Americans, hook, line and sinker? Whatever it was, he was hand-in-glove with Bush, and jointly responsible for destroying Iraq and killing almost 500,000. Obama, together with Cameron and Sarkozy, did a similar demolition job in Libya and Syria. All three countries are worse off than before the American-led invasions. The UN, which passed resolutions to give cover to these invasions, does nothing but hounds us for defeating terrorism.

Interestingly, the tweets from the US Embassy and the SJB had striking similarities. Who is dictating to whom or are they singing from the same hymn-sheet? It is no secret that the Leader of the Opposition is in regular touch, but he seems not to have learned lessons from history. JR was one of the strongest supporters of the US and the West, but they denied his request for arms to supress terrorism! Americans, British and French were more interested in saving Prabhakaran than helping us defeat terrorism. When we defeat terrorists, rather than support us, they harass us. Do we need advice from them?

The bane for true reconciliation is the ethnic minority parties whose only priority is self-serving. At the drop of a pin, they run to the offices of our neighbouring viceroys! Instead, they should cooperate with the government of the day in finding solutions, rather than getting the big-brother to bully us.

Whilst telling ambassadors to mind their own business, we should pressurise our government to stop politicking and start nation building.



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Ampitiya That I Knew



Ampitiya is a village just two miles from Kandy. The road to Talatuoya, Marassana, Galaha and turning left from Talatuoya to Tennekumbura and Hanguranketha and beyond goes through Ampitiya.My family moved there in 1949 when our paternal grandfather bequeathed the ancestral home to our father to be effective after our grandfather’s demise. Until then the eldest sister of our father’s family with her family and the two bachelor brothers lived in the house. After living in various places our father was transferred to on duty, we had come to our final abode there.

The house was situated about 100 yards before the second mile post. There were paddy fields both in front of the house and behind it with a mountain further away. These were salubrious surroundings to live in. There was no hustle and bustle as in a town and the only noise would have been the occasional tooting of horns and the call of vendors selling various household needs.

The Ampitiya village extended from near the entrance to the Seminary and the school situated a short climb away along Rajapihilla Mawatha (now Deveni Rajasinghe Mawatha) on the road from Kandy ending at the gate to the Seminary, and running up to the Diurum Bodiya temple.

Ampitiya was well known thanks to the Seminary of our Lady of Lanka located there. Newly ordained Catholic priests took theology classes here. The Seminary with its majestic building commanded a fine view of the Dumbara valley. The student priests lived in the hostel called Montefano St. Sylvester’s Monastery situated just above the sloping rice fields coming down to the Kandy-Talatuoya Road. There was a volleyball court within the Montefano premises and we used to see the young priests enjoying themselves playing a game in the evenings as the court was quite visible from our house.

We, as schoolboys of the neighbourhood, used to get together during many weekends and play cricket on the roadway to the Montefano which was just past the second milepost as there was no vehicular traffic then on that road.

Ampitiya had a school started by the Catholic Church and known as Berrewaerts College which later became the Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya. At the time our family became residents of Ampitiya this was the only school. Later the Catholic Church established a girls’ school named Carmel Hill Convent. This school enabled most girls who had to go all the way to Kandy or Talatuoya by bus to walk to school.

People who follow sports, especially athletics, would have heard the names of Linus Dias, Sellappuliyage Lucien Benedict Rosa (best known in Sri Lanka as SLB Rosa) and Ranatunga Karunananda, all Ampitiya products who participated in the Olympics as long distance runners competing in the 10,000 metres event. Linus Dias captained the Sri Lankan contingent in the Rome Olympics in 1960.Though they were not able to emulate Duncan White they took part.

Karunananda became a hero in Sri Lanka as well as in Japan when at the Tokyo Olympics of October 1964 he completed the 10,000 metre course running the last four laps all alone. The crowd cheered him all the way to the finish appreciating his courage in not abandoning the already completed race. Later he said he was living up to the Olympic motto which said the main thing is to take part and not to win.

Rosa captained the Sri Lankan team in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He switched to long distance running while still a student thanks to the Principal of Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya, Mr. Tissa Weerasinghe (a hall mate of mine one year senior to me at Peradeniya) who had noted his stamina and asked him to switch to long distance events. I must mention that Tissa was responsible for bringing this school to a high standard from where it was when he took over.

Coincidentally, during our Ampitiya days, all the houses from Uduwela junction for about half a mile towards Talatuoya were occupied by our relatives! They included the Warakaulles, Koswattes, Pussegodas, Sangakkaras, Godamunnes, Thalgodapitiyas and Wijekoons. Now most of these houses are occupied by others.

Ampitiya area had two Buddhist temples. One was the Dalukgolla Rajamaha Viharaya on the Ratemulla Road and the other, Ampitiya Diurum Bodiya, near the third mile post. From the latter temple a famous Buddhist monk, Ven. Ampitye Rahula Thero later joined the Vajirarama temple in Colombo and was highly recognized by Buddhists just like Ven. Narada and Ven.Piyadassi Theros.

The Uduwela temple had a water spout emerging out of a granite rock where the temple priests and neighbours used to bathe and wash their clothes. This spout never ran dry.

At present the landscape of Ampitiya has changed hugely. Most of the sloping paddy fields have been filled and dwelling houses have come up. The majestic view, except for faraway mountains, is no longer present. A five-star hotel has been built just beyond the second mile post and the area has lost its previous tranquility. A person of my vintage who once lived there visiting Ampitiya now wouldn’t be able to recognize the place given the changes.



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Expert advice on tax regime



The Government’s new tax regime has led to protests not only by high income earning professionals but also by Trade Unions.In my view the problem is not with the rate of taxation which is 6% – 36%, but with the tax exemption threshold. Due to hyper-inflation and the high cost of electricity, water, essential food items etc, the Exemption Threshold of 1.2 million per year is far too low.

If the Exemption Threshold is increased to at least 1.8 million per year, the Trade Unions are likely to accept this. It will also lessen the burden of taxation on high income professionals. And it should not impact on the IMF agreement.

The time has now come for a compromise between the Government and the protesters.

(The writer is a retired Commissioner General of Inland Revenue)

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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