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Changing O/L and A/L exam dates: More action essential for best results

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By Prof. R.P. Gunawardane

A decision is reported to have been made to change the dates of the GCE O/L and GCE A/L exams with effect from the year 2023. According to this proposal O/L examination will be held four months early in August instead of December and the A/L examination will be conducted seven months early in January instead of August every year.

This plan if implemented properly with the necessary changes in the university admission process coupled with the streamlining of the university academic year in the university system would considerably reduce the delay in the time required for graduation. It is also necessary to develop a well-organized academic program to keep the O/L students occupied after their exam until the A/L classes begin in January next year.

History

In this context, it is of interest to go into the history of these examinations briefly. GCE O/L examination has always been conducted in the month of December every year without any interruption. However, there were number of changes to the period of GCE A/L examination. The GCE A/L examination was held during the month of December until 1970. During this period practical examination for those offering science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology) was held in April the following year. These practical examinations were held in the Universities of Colombo and Peradeniya at the time.

In 1972, the GCE A/L examination was shifted to the month of April mainly because of the disruption of education due to the insurgency occurred in 1971. This examination was held in April until the year 1977. During this period yet another significant development took place. Practical examination for the science subjects at A/L was abolished deviating from accepted international practices.

Until the year 1977 it was possible to admit the students who qualified for admission to universities in October the same year. At that time the universities had a regular academic year beginning October and ending in July making the transition from secondary education to tertiary/university education smooth. As a result, the students at the time did not waste much time awaiting admission to the universities. In 1978 the GCE A/L exam was shifted to August for unknown reasons making students to wait more than a year to enter the universities. From 1978 the GCE A/L examination was held regularly in August every year until 2001.

During 2000-2001 period extensive discussions were held in the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the National Education Commission to review the exam time tables in order to reduce the waiting time for students. After careful consideration of all the issues involved it was decided to conduct the GCE A/L Examination in April with effect from the year 2002.

With the implementation of this scheme the backlog of admissions was also cleared by admitting two batches in the same year. After implementation of this plan the GCE A/L exam was conducted in April every year until the year 2007 making it possible to admit students to universities in the same year. Then supposedly due to administrative reasons this exam was shifted back again to August in 2008, and it is continuing up to date.

Issues

When A/L examination is held in August, it is not possible to begin A/L classes for the fresh students who sat GCE O/L exam in December until September the following year. The class rooms and teachers would be available for the new students only in September. As a result, those who sat O/L examination in December wait for nearly 9 months wasting valuable time in their prime years. Similarly, after A/L examination in August the students have to wait till September or October the following year for admission to Universities under normal circumstances. This state of affairs can be further aggravated in situations where there is a backlog of students waiting to enter different faculties of the universities.

In these circumstances, those students who were fortunate enough to be selected to the universities had to wait periods up to 2 years at home wasting their valuable time. As explained earlier time lag occurs in several stages – after O/L examination, after A/L examination and also due to delays in admission to individual universities. In addition, due to strikes and other disruptions in different universities/ faculties further delays are encountered.

Fixed Academic year for universities

A disturbing feature currently prevailing in the University System is that different universities adopt different academic years/semesters due to various reasons. What is worst is that in the same university different faculties are adopting different academic years resulting in a chaotic situation. It is worth noting that no other country in the world has such a disorder in the university system. An internationally accepted fixed academic year (September/October to June/July) is being practiced in all the countries in the world. Thus, this situation has to be corrected by synchronizing the academic years in all the faculties and the universities in our university system in order to obtain the best benefits from the proposed changes in the national examinations.

It must be stressed that changes in examination dates alone will not solve the issue of long delay in graduation. Simultaneously, the academic year of the universities also should be fixed. Once it is fixed it should not be changed under any circumstance except in a national calamity like the Covid-19 pandemic. Even in such a situation the necessary adjustment should be temporary and restricted to that particular year only.

Thus, the university academic year should be fixed like in all the other countries from September to June (9 -10 months) beginning 2022. Like our school academic year (January-December) this should not be changed under any circumstance. If there are disruptions due to strikes etc. course material should be displayed on line, alternative arrangements should be made for practical/clinical training and the exams should be held as scheduled. This is very essential to get the new batch admitted on time.

In order to implement this program, the examination department and the University Grants Commission have a prominent role to play. The results of both O/L and A/L examinations should be released as early as possible within two months. The admission process should be streamlined to complete the selection process expeditiously by getting the universities also involved in the selection process.

It is a national crime to waste years of precious time of our young generation. Thus, it is absolutely essential to implement an action plan to reduce the waiting time of students at the GCE A/L stage, the university admission level and in the undergraduate program. This will facilitate the smooth running of the higher education system in Sri Lanka.

 

Status of medical education

Related to the same issue, it has been highlighted recently that medical graduates spend a very long period to become consultants due to long delays at various stages of their training program in addition to the delays encountered in the university admission process.

Due to the current status in higher education those who study medicine would be wasting about 5-6 years of their prime time between their O/L exam and the beginning of the internship in the medical career. Even after that they have a long way ahead to become medical consultants.

There is a waiting period before the placement for internship appointment. Then, there will be another waiting period for post internship appointment followed by exams by the PGIM and foreign training. Foreign training component has to be organized by the trainees themselves and there is no formal help or methodology. Even after going through the foreign training program, they may still have to wait for a considerable period of time for their consultant appointments. By that time, he or she will be past 40 years having less than 20 years left to serve the nation as a medical consultant. At this stage this person has spent almost 35 years of continuous school education, university education and professional training. This is rather a pathetic situation prevailing in Sri Lanka today.

In most of the other countries such delays do not exist. For example, in USA most students enter universities when they reach about 17 years. In USA, most professional programs are conducted at graduate level. For instance, medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and even education are conducted as postgraduate courses. In the case of medicine, you need to follow an undergraduate program which includes pre-medical requirements prior to admission to medical school. Then, they should pass MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) to apply for a medical school. Total period of the first degree and MD program is 8 years. Thus, they will be about 25 years when they complete MD. Their internship is combined with specialized training to become consultants. This training lasts for 3-5 years depending on the specialty, except in highly specialized fields such as cardiac surgery, neuro surgery, plastic surgery etc. which may take 6-10 years. For example, one can become a consultant physician at the age of 28 years and a consultant dermatologist at the age of 29 yrs. The situation is similar regarding the average ages of the medical professionals in most of the other developed countries and even in some developing countries. This means that Sri Lankan medical graduate spends over one decade more than an average medical professional in any other country to become a medical consultant!

In most countries students apply for admission to universities in their final year in the high school and similarly, medical students apply for internship and specialization programs in their final year in the medical school. They start the combined internship and specialization program immediately after graduation. They have a highly organized and coordinated systems with a fixed calendar to administer these activities annually.

All the delays encountered by the medical trainees are avoidable if suitable action is taken by the Ministry of Education, the UGC, universities and the Ministry of Health in a highly coordinated manner. Since medical students are graduating at different times in different medical schools at present due to variable academic years, it is extremely difficult for the Ministry of Health to find placements immediately.

It is a national crime to waste many productive years and precious time of our talented young generation due to inaction of our authorities. Thus, it is absolutely essential to implement an action plan to reduce this time lag to a minimum without any further delay. A dedicated and a highly coordinated effort is needed in this direction with the active participation of the higher officials of the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and the UGC. Furthermore, it is essential that all the medical faculties have the same fixed academic year immediately so that internship appointments can be streamlined and expedited.

We have seen the rapid increase of waiting period and the delay at the different stages of medical training during the last several decades. It has now become a very serious issue affecting our young generation and the whole nation. Many generations of our highly talented young medical students have gone through this painful process without much protest.

Thus, it is high time for the civil society activists and particularly trade unions like GMOA and FUTA to take this matter up with the authorities and see that appropriate action is taken by the relevant authorities without any further delay.

(The author is a Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya, formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education and Chairman, National Education Commission, Sri Lanka)



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Features

New Trend of Defeated Democracy

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One does not know whether Minister Udaya Gammanpila is enjoying his time of special prominence with the SLPP Secretary calling for his resignation and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya moving a vote of No Confidence in him.

The cause for his delight must be that the price of oil remains at the new high levels that were announced by him. He will certainly go down in history as one who replaced the Rajapaksas in leadership on a national issue of importance. Gotabaya, Mahinda, Chamal and Namal are all in the background on the fuel price hike – this is the Gammanpila Gift to the people, not the Rajapaksa curse, when they are trapped in burdens of the Covid pandemic.

The price of fuel is the stuff of governance. Gammanpila has shown how well he can burden the people with a huge fuel price hike. A new trend in fuel price politics was seen in the statement by the smaller parties of the SLPP government that opposed the SLPP Secretary’s call for Gammanpila to resign. Among them were members of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the Communist Party and the Democratic Left Front. Three left parties that were definitely not against the rise in fuel prices, and the hardships it will cause the people.

Just try to keep alive in your memories how the old left parties – LSSP and CP – with Vasudeva aligned with them, being strongly opposed to burdens imposed on the people. That is the fading history of the Left. What we now have is the Saubhagyaye Thel Mila, the Prosperity and Splendour of a Fuel Price Hike.

The new Thel Mila is the garnish on the dish of the people cooked with the banning of chemical fertilizer imports. There will soon be more of such painful decorations for the people of this not so pearly island.

While the Thel Mila will keep making its inroads into the lives of people with a Gas price hike, the rise in prices of vegetables, rice, flour and all other food, and essential clothes too, Gammanpila will dance, seeing how much he has progressed in crooked politics, forgetful of his past records in law and order.

There is a different joy that we are entitled to enjoy with the Court of Appeal allowing the application for bail by Shani Abeysekera, former head of the CID, and another police officer held in detention for nearly ten months. This has certainly strengthened our faith in the higher judiciary just as the Supreme Court saw to it that 25 clauses of the Port City Bill that were in violation of the Constitution were removed.

The details of that judgment by the Court of Appeal, not fully reported in the media, shows a very dangerous trend in the activities of the police and the authorities on governance, with complete disregard for the rights of the people, or Human Rights, that is an increasing topic of political manoeuvre.

The release of Abeysekera and the other police officer brings into focus the other issue that is the burden of governance in Sri Lanka today. It is the passage of a resolution by the European Parliament, with a huge majority, that consideration be given to the withdrawal of the GSP-plus facility for imports from Sri Lanka if important changes are not carried out to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and this country acts in compliance with international agreements it has signed of the principles of the Rule of Law.

Let’s just bring back to our knowledge the full name of this Act. It is the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1976. Why are we hanging on to all the temporary provisions of this law, passed at a time when the temporary provisions were necessary?

In a fast changing world on issues of the rights of the people, whether it is the Black Lives Matter in the US and Europe too, and the rights of women and children that require constant updating, as well as the rights of workers that are moving away from the days of colonial dominance, should we not update our legislation on matters that relate to humans, as well as animals too.

If we have as a democratic country – that we keep boasting about despite the 20th Amendment to the Constitution – signed so many international agreements relating to Human Rights and principles of justice by several governments, should we keep talking about issues of sovereignty, when the call is to fall in line with recognized international norms of Justice, Law and Order, and Human Values?

It is time to bear in mind that the denial of GSP-plus to Sri Lanka, will hardly affect the business sector that owns the garment industries – who can always go to other countries; but the several thousand workers in our garment factories. Why are we making so many adjustments to the ‘lockdown’ rules to keep these factories working? Is it not because of the foreign exchange they bring to the national treasury, coffers being emptied each day. We cannot afford to lose the benefits of GSP-plus, which will drive thousands out of employment and the country to much worse than it is today.

It is time to bear in mind that Udaya Gammanpila would bring no solution at all to the GSP-plus issue. It is time to go much beyond Gammanpila politics of today!

Come next week, Gammanpila will be largely replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe. That is the new emerging politics. What a fine democracy we have, when a party leader whose party of political history was wholly defeated at the last general election, without even a single elected member – including himself, is appointed to the National List and crept back into Parliament.

Are we moving to the new trend of Defeated Democracy, whether fuel prices, Gammanpila or Wickremesinghe?

 

 

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Prominent Persons in society

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I saw a letter in the newspapers the other day purported to be from “prominent persons” in society. Now every single person in that collective had appended their signature and it was virtually a directive to the President to follow certain instructions issued by these people. Firstly, there was no detailed plan just instructions to do as “we say”. Secondly, I was left wondering as to how one becomes a “PROMINENT PERSON”? If you have held down a government job, not achieving anything of any consequence for your entire working life, or wormed and slimed your way through the mercantile sector to the detriment of countless dozens of your fellow workers, does that make you prominent? Furthermore, can you appoint yourself as a prominent person? Should you not be recognised by an established and more importantly a credible body, preferably with international credentials? What happens in a failed state? Are prominent people prominent failures? Heartfelt apologies to our Dear Mr. Haniffa, purveyor of all knowledge logical to the Royalists of my era!

Now, I am not saying all those prominent persons who had signed that letter fitted the above description. No doubt there are people who have been of great service to the Pearl and even the world. My point of contention is why have they got to call themselves prominent people? Of course (in my opinion) it is a clear indication of their ineffectuality, the fact that they have not included any plan how to get a hold of the number of vaccines required not to mention how to administer them and circumnavigate the inherent, corrupt system that is in place. Maybe their prominence would be better established if they could use their “prominence” and in some cases, international credibility, to get some doses of the vaccine by ensuring fair distribution of same? Rather than simply issue directives (probably in a feeble attempt to assuage their consciences’ and maintain their prominence in their own estimation), they should offer to get involved or better still abandon their refuge in academia and put forward some practical ideas on how to ensure fair distribution. These are undoubtedly (in some cases) some of the best minds left in our country, surely, they can come up with a plan? If they can’t can a bunch of barely O’-level-qualified parliamentarians and army officers do better? To venture into the ridiculous, if the aforementioned members of parliament (read as the scum of the earth) do come up with a plan does that make them “PROMINENT”!

On the subject of what is published in the newspapers and featured on the web of the Pearl, it seems like the discarded leader of the Yahapalanaya regime, and I say this because even if he wasn’t on paper (or prominence) the leader, he was and certainly should have been, Ranil Wickremesinghe is beginning to worry “the powers that be”, again. Virulent descriptions of him and his supposed perversions in the form of a crudely worded obituary is doing the rounds. Surely, all those who condemned him in all possible ways CANNOT be thinking “could we have been wrong”? The two-thirds of the oh so “literate” voter base who gave a clear majority to an established cohort of robber barons to take over and continue to decimate their country, couldn’t be wrong? The “prominent citizens” who either stayed silent or actively promoted this electoral result with nothing but selfish ulterior motives couldn’t be admitting to the fallibility of their “judgment”? BTW another petrol price increase, the super cars that are being imported for the MP’s will help finish the petrol and thereby leave less petrol for the people to waste their money on! Another referral to the convoluted logic of today that also decrees that printing money will have no effect on inflation.

I see a typically innocuous statement from the Covid reprieved leader of the opposition, saying that he would donate his shots of the vaccine to the people of the country. One wonders if this statement has had input from his advisor on foreign affairs! Is there any use of vaccines for someone who has already had the disease? The answer is pretty obvious even to this “unprominent” person. Therefore, the grandiose and dramatic statement that this doubtful specimen of humanity, will not be vaccinated until every last citizen of his beloved country is vaccinated falls into the category of unadulterated excreta of a bullock, as does most of the other things he says.

When the prominent citizens of this country survey the aforesaid alternatives for leaders in their motherland. The selection between robber barons, retired army officers, and moronic parliamentarians, leaves the purportedly sexually deviant well in the lead, doesn’t it? I must admit that I never ever thought that this line of reasoning would ever be activated!

The inquiry into who was really responsible for the Easter massacre, the strong words of the Cardinal and any possible action by the Attorney General seem to have been swept under the carpet by the various diversions that have either been put into place or that have fallen into place, due to the “curse of Kuveni” that dogs the past present and future of our beloved ex-pearl of the Indian ocean. It is up to the people of the country to make up their own minds, based on the available evidence and at least now decide, not to allow people with even a semblance of doubt attached to them, anywhere near the seats of power. That is assuming they get another chance in the form of another democratic election. The possibility of which does not look too good at present!

Meanwhile the G7 countries have been enjoying a great beach party in Cornwall that extremely picturesque part of England and during the two days of summer that England enjoys, to boot! No Aotearoa NZ at the party, but we are having our own having thrashed England at test cricket and all the Aussie rugby franchises in the trans-Tasman super rugby tournament. I guess parties do happen and the games must go on, regardless of the situation?

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Journal mention is not fame but infamy; ‘reversed’ is not ‘cancelled’; public figures shown up

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In this time of natural disasters and government’s omissions and commissions; a leaky burning ship surreptitiously invited to seek haven just outside our Colombo Port for money considerations, destroying our wonderful sea and life in it for a hundred years, one hugs little bits of normalcy that intrude joyfully our woeful state. Such was my emotion when I opened my front door on Friday 11 June and saw The Island newspaper in crisp print lying there waiting to be read. I actually hugged it as I would a lost child. So many of us newspaper readers yearned for paper copy. You could read on-line but there’s nothing like holding a newspaper in hand.

 

Oo-la-la! Featured in The Economist

Yes, yes, Sri Lanka has got a column in the British Economist, one of the most prestigious of weeklies. It is not about our economy (sinking) or C19 spread (exponential) or being the first country to ban chemical fertilizers (disastrous in its overnight implementation). It’s mainly about a slip of a girl with strident voice and apparent clout with high ups, and other pluses we suppose which to us Ordinaries are deplorable minuses. I quote part of the article for you to enjoy or curl your noses in disgust at how low we are sinking as a nation. I must add I could not believe that the Economist would devote half a page to this but verifying, found it was The Brit weekly. Here below are excerpts with title intact.

 

Push the boat out: An influencer’s rant overshadows an ecological disaster in Sri Lanka “Influence” is, after all, part of the job description

The Economist 12 June 2021

“For two weeks an inferno blazed on the X-Press Pearl, a container ship off Sri Lanka’s western coast. Its cargo—everything from frozen fish to hazardous chemicals and tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles—burned up or spilled into the ocean. Eventually, on June 2nd, the ship sank. Nurdles and other debris are washing up on beaches. Hard questions have been asked about why the vessel, which was known to have a leaky container of acid, was allowed to enter Sri Lankan waters.

“But naturally all that many Sri Lankans have discussed for the past week is Piumi Hansamali, a 28-year-old model and actress. On the same day that the ship sank, police in the capital, Colombo, bundled Ms Hansamali and more than a dozen other people into an old bus and drove them to Passara, a distant village, for a compulsory two-week quarantine. Ms Hansamali had earlier been arrested and released on bail for attending a birthday party on May 30th for Chandimal Jayasinghe, a beautician and beauty-pageant impresario, in a five-star hotel, in violation of a lockdown that started in the middle of May.

“Ms Hansamali, an accomplished social-media influencer …. heaped wrath on a television journalist who had urged police to punish the revellers (he later complained to police of death threats). ….allegations later emerged that Sarath Weerasekera, the public-security minister, had ordered the bus to turn round so that its occupants could pick up clothes, the maritime disaster was all but forgotten. On June 5th a local news website wryly noted that searches on Google for Ms Hansamali and Mr Jayasinghe far exceeded those for the sunken ship. Ms Hansamali, for her part, made the best of a bad situation and took to posting pictures on Instagram of her quarantine digs”The episode reflects a deeper unhappiness with the government’s enforcement of lockdown rules. For days before the bus incident, police had cracked down on violators, in some cases physically carrying them off the streets. But the partygoers were detained only after pressure from the media. Nor was the hotel punished for allowing the bash. Three recent deaths in custody—including one on June 6th, in which a man seeking food for his family was detained for breaching travel restrictions and died after falling from a police vehicle—have sharpened the sense of double standards. Mr Weerasekera addressed Parliament two days later, to defend himself against allegations that he gave Ms Hansamali special treatment after she called him.

… Ms Hansamali and her friends may have meant to cause the government grief. In reality they did the opposite.” The imputations are important.

That is this resplendent Island of yesterday, now decadent. But the humour of social media keeps the people going and unintended jollification in Parliament where in apposition to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who earns respect, his argumentative co-Parliamentarian Sarath Weerasekera has earned a new sobriquet to precede his first name. It sticks in Cass’ throat as ribald but that is the way this land like no others goes. He earned it for being considerate to Hansamali’s need for fresh underwear!

Remember a film starlet garnered more manapes than Karu Jaysuriya and at her first press interview said she knew nothing of the legislature and its rules. When rioting MPs of the Opp took over Parliament when Sirisena turned traitorous and ousted PM Ranil W, Pavitradevi of peni and mutti fame was the loudest rioter beside Johnston and company. Aney, now Health Minister! That’s Sri Lanka for you.

 

The intelligent and knowledgeable write on current matters

The Sunday Island of 13 June also came out in favoured paper/print copy. And it contained excellent reading on present matters. The eminent group led by Prof Savitri Goonesekera dealt with the misappropriation of Covid A-Z vaccine from those who rightly deserved the second dose. Chandra Jayaratne went deeper into this matter in his article “‘Fraud on a Power’- exercised in Vaccinations Management?” listing methodically cases of mismanagement. Sarala Fernando brought to light the help given by USAID to us and further help like free A-Z vaccines to be send by the government under Biden’s order. The Editor succinctly dealt with the “Aftermath of X-Press Pearl.” What had Cass calculating and getting tied up in Rs and dollars and not knowing whether the ship compensation to come would be in USDs or Singapore. But one thing hit her so it knocked her off balance and sent her almost reeling: The compensation for a hundred years of disastrous damage to the seas around us, a fertile resource to this island nation, is 50 M while the luxury cars ordered by the Prime Minister and readily and greedily rubber stamped by the Cabinet would cost us (we tax paying Ordinaries) 3 B. I had a banker help me in my calculations but the 50 M converted to rupees from USD was still totally inadequate payment to us and actually disproportionate to what was to be spent on luxury cars for fat MPS: 225 MPs, 399 cars.

 

Gentlemen meet, ladies included

Cass turned away from the degradation that is over here and listened with delight to BBC World News and saw wonderful pictures of Farnmouth, Cornwall, and Biden and other G7 leaders. No one can accuse Nan of being Suud savvy. See how civilly they sat at a round table and discussed seriously Covid recovery/ stronger global health systems; climate change; and trade. They have committed to handing over millions of vaccines to poorer countries. Chair Boris Johnson, coined their slogan of ‘Build Better Back’ which Biden adroitly directed to countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Cass particularly liked seeing merciful, sane Biden and teacher-wife meet the Royal Family; so gracious on both sides and so very civilized as against our mess and bits of partying fluff that even the Economist comments on as symptomatic of what prevails in this now cursed and battered island. The girl will boast being featured in an international journal little realizing the connotation she is mentioned in. This is the brash new type of young woman we are burdened with against all the beautiful, intelligent young adults we have.

 

Bright spark of news

That brightest star of Sri Lanka has yet again brought fame to the country. Kumar Sangakkara has been inducted to the ICC Hall of Fame, joining the other deserved Sri Lankan star already there – Muthiah Muralitharan. These two are definitely the greatest and both from Kandy, if you please. The accompanying thought is of how despicably the sports minister of then, Aluthgamage, and many on SLC Board badgered and bullied Sangakkara particularly when he was lauded overseas, particularly in Britain. This is why Cass is willing even to be stoned for an idea expressed which is a TRUTH. Class, upbringing at home and school, breeding and even caste hold good to sieve grain from the gross; the decent from dross.

All balanced Sri Lankans congratulate Sangha. We love and admire him.

A PS about Aluthgamage. Cass was told over the phone that the Anniewatte residents were all geared up to receive first vaccination at Kandy High School premises, tented and all, when a call of cancellation came through. Supposedly Minister Aluthgamage had appropriated the vaccines and hijacked them to Nawalapitiya or some such. Don’t believe Cass; please verify, then vilify.

 

Flash news:

The decision to import luxury vehicles for MPs has been reversed said Rambukwella. That probably means postponed, as this Minister himself said earlier the order could not be cancelled. MPs and others are not going to give up so easily on yet another perk.

Flash Comment:

We Ordinaries will never forget this heinous crime which was planned to be executed while the country was in dire straits on several fronts.

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