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Health sector in crisis:



Causes and possible remedies

Of all the crises that affect us, the most damaging is that in the medical sector. Pictures of poor elders turned away from empty clinics due to sudden strikes by nurses, attendants and (quite deplorably) doctors are heart-breaking.

Now doctors including consultants are leaving the country in droves, supposedly seeking more lucrative employment in richer countries. It is unfair, and possibly erroneous, to suggest that money is the only or main motivating force. It takes much more than financial considerations to drive them to leave their country of birth.

It is clear that many of our countrymen working abroad have reached stellar heights in their chosen fields. It seems that our young men and women are no less talented than the best there is. Thus, it is not likely that the lure of creature comforts and money alone are the main driving forces, or that they are betraying the investment of State money and time, to equip them educationally. The argument that they should acknowledge their debt to the nation in some way is reasonable.

There are much more compelling reasons for their risking their own future and that of their children in virtually unfamiliar conditions. I believe that the causes of their discontent have to be identified and rectified so that our growing society will measure up to their expectations.

It is true that health and education are nominally provided free by the State, but equally true that their quality is far below acceptable standards.

Sadly, in our society, politics takes precedence over everything else. That it emits an overpowering stench on all that it touches is clear. It is a largely parasitic creature, whose roots have sunk into a totally subservient heart. That it has done so successfully is tribute to a virile and evergreen menace. Thus, our stupidly malleable society has been deceived to loudly demand a timely holding of elections and a New Constitution.

This false delusion of “Power to the people” deflects attention from much more compelling and real issues like for example, escalation of crime, drug addiction and widespread malnutrition of children.

Rather than asserting that emigrating citizens are disloyal ingrates, it would be far more productive to identify and where possible to eliminate, or at least to reduce the underlying causes that encourage emigration.

Firstly, the discontent that is dramatised by the alarming departure of medical talent, is much more widespread among all professionals, be they teachers, researchers, academics or engineers, as well as others with specialised training and experience. They are invaluable assets, which our country cannot afford to lose.

Given the all- pervasive nature of politics in our country, ii is but fair that comparison focus on this sector as setting standards for others. Parliament becomes the “Gold Standard” or a factor of reference as the base. By any measure, the stark difference between the rewards for politics far surpasses those of any other. This huge aberration, if allowed unchecked, will lead to irreversible decline and eventual collapse.

The enormous disparity between rewards for Parliamentary representation are so blatant that they could never have escaped the notice by the beneficiaries of this ridiculous reality. A few need emphasis.

Costs and (no) returns.

Each member of Parliament is estimated to cost the Exchequer about one million Rupees per month. In reply to a Member’s query, it was revealed that the total cost of maintaining a previous incumbent of the Presidency, was around twenty million per day.. Little wonder that in the quest for this bonanza, the aspirants would resort to even the most despicable crime, to lay their grasping hands on this unconscionable reward. Talk of “value for money”.

Dereliction of Duty.

Parliament assembles for 100 to 120 days per year. This works out at less than a two-day week. Even with this low demand, the empty seats are scandalous. Often, even the quorum is not met. The front row of seats (ruling party seniors and Cabinet) are bare. It was once explained (without a semblance of shame) that no less than 18 Ministers were abroad. One wonders how the rest of the World survives in their absence. One may also question why our taxpayers should pay for the upkeep of other Countries, while neglecting their own. Generally, the proceedings, of Parliament are rich in ritual and poor in substance.

Quite often, the House adjourns, even after just about ten minutes for lack of a quorum or even inability to control a rowdy display. It is interesting to know whether members draw their “sitting allowance”.


While most public officers get entitled to a graded pension after more than twenty years of service, and this too a miserable percentage of their last salary, an MP after just five years (just a single term), qualifies for a lifetime pension possibly drawing 100% of his emoluments as pension for life, and for the wife too. A retiring (or dying or being chased out) President is entitled to a full salary, a house, staff and security as before. The same applies for the surviving spouse. Not bad is it?

In my personal case, after serving the State for more than fifty years, I do not draw one cent as pension. Is it any wonder that I have a great respect and love for politicians living or dead?

I have deliberately focused on the undue prominence and costs of duping ourselves on the relevance and importance of an essentially divisive activity. The media must take much of the blame for this societal scourge. Personalities of doubtful competence – even to the extent of crudity – are lionised by undue prominence. It seems as if nothing else matters. Events, achievements and personalities outside of politics do not seem to be worthy of attention.

This situation has perhaps, defined much public behaviour – such as this of massive emigration. It is human nature to be exhilarated by peers as worthy of praise. It is painful to be ignored or condemned to anonymity.

The low priority accorded to science and professionalism in general manifests in several ways and bodes ill for development, and adversely impacts on sustainability and future progress.

The impact of science on a country’s progress, is well illustrated by countries like Germany, UK and other European countries and Japan and more recently by China and South Korea. The South Korean example is perhaps the most relevant to us. The management of companies with significant technological content, like Samsung, is a striking example, where young and recently qualified scientists are at the helm of management.

As an indication of the Government’s serious interest, a massive multi-storied building was built to house their nascent Science Academy. The total cost was more than USD 5 mn and borne entirely by the government. The floor area is vastly in excess of immediate needs. The academy was empowered to rent out or lease some of its premises and use the proceeds to meet their immediate needs. This is in a country which not so long ago was in severe economic distress.

In contrast, The Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) and The National Academy for Sciences in Sri Lanka (NASSL) are together allocated just about a million Sri Lanka Rupees as an Annual Grant, and this too not paid to the two Associations in several years. It is hoped that The State Institutes for Health (MRI), Industries (ITI) and The Government Analysts and Meteorology Departments are treated better.

Contrast this with the expenditure borne for Parliament and other political institutions and and it will be easy to see where state priorities seem to lie.

Actually, the medical sector has a march over others. This is the contentious issue of private practice being allowed outside of official working hours. All are aware how this contentious facility is prone to abuse. The State service suffers deprivation and providers of private services thrive. The same applies to the education field as well, private tutors easily siphon quality education to private tuition centres fed easily by willful neglect of legitimate duties.

In my opinion this is one of the most damaging political stunts since 1956.The perpetrators of this crime took pains to see that their own children were shipped abroad to be educated in English, thereby improving their employability, locally and also in most parts of the World.

At the time of this disastrous change, (during the watch of our greatest PM), the Minister of Education was Mr Badi-uddin Mohamed Former Principal of Zahira College, Gampola. Under the Act, Muslim children could choose their medium of instruction, while those of Tamil or Sinhala parentage were compelled to choose the language of their parents. Muslim children mostly chose English. The consequences are plain to see and are bound to be aggravated with time,

To me, the Language/Swabasha/Sinhala only Act, has been an unmitigated disaster. The abandonment of English as the medium of instruction has blasted the career prospects for our children, isolating them from a vast treasure of information and thereby employability. Perhaps most parents would not wish this to happen to their children. Hence the incentive to relocate. This change has handicapped a whole generation and will affect others yet to come. It was political jugglery at its worst and will remain a monument to a nation’s stupidity.

Media coverage reveals a massive escalation of crime. Unsolved killings, robberies, drug-related crimes and smuggling. The numbers and quantities and cash seizures are mind boggling. Sociologists have a role in determining the extent to which proceeds and prevalence of law infringements results in a social and class upheaval. The Middle Class is facing extinction and take-over by a less educated and more vicious segment of society. The elders among us may recall “The Turf Club Robbery” which made media headlines for months. The amount involved was some four lakhs and one murder. In today’s context, this would barely qualify as petty crime.

Corruption which has penetrated all sectors of society, is alarming and very justifiably concern parents and would constitute an important incentive for re-location.

The problem of drug addiction among the young is truly alarming. If unchecked, it will escalate sufficiently to throttle our entire social fabric.

Consequently, it is cynically believed that one can be believed. This has very far-reaching impacts. Choosing to ignore such trends is a recipe for disaster. A feeling of powerlessness is a recipe for disaster.

These are, I believe, factors that motivate emigration rather than the mere quest for monetary gain and creature comforts.

More politics and legal reforms alone are unlikely to be effective and adequate.

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

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Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)



By Chandre Dharmawardana,

A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.

Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.

A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used [1]. However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.

I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note [2]. I quote from it below:

The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE)[3], initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.

Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.

Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.

Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.

[1]Madras Tamil Lexicon.

[2] index.html

[3] Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.

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How to conserve electricity at home and workplace



Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.

There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.

Here is how

(a)  Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.

(b)  When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.

(c)   Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine

(d)  When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.

(e)  Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.

(f)    Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.

(g)  Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.

(h)  Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.

(i)    Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.

(j)    Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.

(k)  Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.


Via e-mail

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Some lesser known historical facts



The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties

Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.

In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.

Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.

Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.

A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.

Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.

When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.

Dr. Leo Fernando

Talahena, Negombo

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