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How to prohibit unsafe consumer products:

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Lesson from electricity industry

 

by Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

The list gets longer by the day. glyphosate, asbestos, thin polythene, palm oil, coconut oil and now, chemical fertiliser and insecticides. I have no knowledge of whether the above-mentioned products should be prohibited or not. However, I can explain the process followed over four years starting 2015, to prohibit unsafe electrical plugs, sockets and converters. The experience revealed that still there are experts, academics and efficient state officers, who are willing to dedicate time and effort, for no extra payment, and drive a transition to prohibit an unsafe product. Systematically, not in an ad-hoc manner––certainly not overnight––provided there are no politicians messing around, trying to accelerate or buckle the process of transition and prohibition.

It was an unusually rainy day in January 2015. Electrical engineers of the Institution of Engineers (IESL) were discussing the safe use of electricity. A worried member highlighted the increasing deaths and fires caused by unsafe plugs, sockets, multi-sockets and extension cords. A total of 180 deaths a year by electrocution. “Toddler dies playing with extension cord”, or, “five shops in Pettah gutted – electrical short circuit suspected”, were frequent headlines.

You buy a new appliance or borrow an appliance from your neighbour. You struggle to connect it to the wall socket because the plug is of a different shape. Run to the shop again, bargain and buy the cheapest multi-socket, make the connection and be happy. You have just made the most dangerous electrical connection; loose, fire hazard, no safety shutter.

Not anymore.

By now, your familiar round pin plug, sockets and the multi-socket are not available in the shops. Aiyo, who prohibited this round-pin plug; even my grandmother used it, but now, no more. Here is why and how it was prohibited.

Step by step up to approval

First, a research paper on the what were in use and what the options were was prepared by an undergraduate of the Jaffna University. I, too, was surprised to learn that there were 15 types of plugs, used in the country, and three types of sockets on the wall. Yes, 15 to three! Thirty countries used one single standard, meaning all plugs and all wall sockets everywhere, in such countries, match each other. Dangerous multi-sockets are not required. The study concluded that the 13-ampere rectangular pin plug and socket should be Sri Lanka’s unique standard.

How on earth did we get there? Fifteen down to one plug, and three down to one socket. Did we force all households to rewire, replace sockets and cut the plugs and put new plugs? No. Such action would have led to a protest march from the Fort Railway Station to the Presidential Secretariat. Unlike items that are frequently ‘prohibited’, a plug and a socket last for 20 years. The transition is going to be complicated, long and painful. This is where the collective professional expertise and wisdom mattered.

The Institution turned to the Public Utilities Commission, which is legally responsible for ensuring the safe supply and use of electricity. A committee, assembled by the commission, had the country’s finest professionals (i) experienced electrical engineers, (ii) a respected academic, (iii) electricity distributors CEB and LECO, (iv) Sri Lanka Standards Institution, (iv) Import Export Control Dept, (v) Sri Lanka Customs, (vi) Consumer Affairs Authority, (vii) Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau, and most importantly, (viii) manufacturers and suppliers of plugs, sockets, accessories.

The committee debated for five months, examined all possible options and problems expected in transition. What would happen to raw material available with manufacturers, half-manufactured goods, stocks with traders and shops? Substandard plugs, sockets, converters on order, in transit, for sale in shops and on pavement in Colombo?

Procedures to follow were many. Sri Lanka Standards publishes standards and tests devices presented to them; they cannot issue prohibitions, which has to be done by the Consumer Affairs Authority. If the import of any item is prohibited, it should align with WTO accords Sri Lanka has ratified. The Sri Lanka Customs Department implements import prohibitions; the Consumer Affairs Authority monitors local manufacture and sale prohibitions.

Complicated procedure, but fair enough. There is a neat system to prohibit import, manufacture, display and sale of an undesirable product.

The new standard will be the rectangular pin plug and socket, engineers concurred. If households are not compelled to change the wall sockets, and if new appliances will all have “square pin” plugs, isn’t it the same problem as we have now? Each problem had a solution and a time frame to implement. All this was included in the concept paper.

The next step was to hold a public consultation. Views expressed were overwhelmingly in support of the transition plan, to achieve a single standard: 13 ampere, “square” pin. There were only two dissenting views on sentimental grounds. So far, no politicians on the scene!

By now, it was almost two years since the first meeting at the Institution of Engineers. No need to hurry, but no need to delay either.

Cabinet approval was obtained for a two-year transition in four steps to prohibit non-standard plugs, sockets and accessories.

 

Step 1:

August 2016: An announcement was made prohibiting new wiring to have non-standard sockets, encouraging imports and production in transit to conclude soon. Sale of non-standard items was NOT prohibited yet.

Step 2:

August 2017: Regulation was issued under Import Export Control Act, prohibiting import of non-standard plugs, sockets, multi-sockets, converters. Sale of non-standard items was NOT prohibited, yet.

Step 3:

December 2017: Regulations were issued under Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Act to prohibit sale or manufacture from January 2019 (a one-year grace period). Publicity and seminars to encourage selling off stocks. The sale of non-standard items was NOT prohibited, yet.

Step 4:

January 2019: Prohibition became effective. Only “square pin” plugs, sockets, extension cords and converters were allowed. The CAA commenced raids.

Throughout the process, the efficiency of state officials was at its highest. The SLSI promised to prepare the new standards in six months but completed them in five. Gazettes under import-export control were issued on the dot, with officers working overnight on the due date. Prohibition under Import Export Control Act required re-definition of customs codes, which was handled by excellent officials from Sri Lanka Customs and the Ministry of Finance. Officers from the CAA issued regulations and implemented them on the dot.

Still no politicians on the scene. The Public Utilities Commission too did not invite politicians to numerous seminars and meetings. The entire process was managed by officials and professionals.

Politicians would be just another group of electricity customers, who would also benefit when the plug exactly matched the wall socket––always.

 

Success is 90%

Now, almost two and a half years since the prohibition became effective, all appliances for sale have had square pin plugs. New wall sockets being sold are also of the same type. If not, please inform the CAA. All new houses and buildings have the square pin sockets on walls. The transition is 90% successful. Why not 100%?

Imported unsafe multi-sockets are still ‘leaking’ into the market in small quantities. The square-to-round and round-to-square safe convertor with SLS certification is still not popular. Locally manufactured ‘extension cords’ are still not SLS compliant; university professors are assisting such local manufacturers to upgrade the quality of thier products. The socket with modern USB is now allowed, but local manufacturers have not come forward to produce it. So, six years on, there is still more work to be done.

In fact, the complete transition will take 20 years or more, until the last socket on the wall breaks off. Follow procedures, examine all issues in full, allow professionals to manage it, give adequate time for transition, are the lessons learned.

If the “Minister” had announced that round pin sockets would be banned from the following week, the process would definitely have been a flop. Shops would have continued to be gutted due to “electrical short circuits”. The public would have a good laugh, as they do now, when they hear of something to be “banned”. Because they are sure the decision will be reversed.

The transition of a relatively simple product to a safe product took four years. This is a lesson as regards how the transition of more serious products should be carried out.



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How rebirth takes place

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(from THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Nārada Mahāthera)

“The pile of bones of (all the bodies of) one man
Who has alone one aeon lived
Would make a mountain’s height —
So said the mighty seer.”
— ITIVUT’TAKA

To the dying man at this critical stage, according to Abhidhamma philosophy, is presented a Kamma, Kamma Nimitta, or Gati Nimitta.

By Kamma is here meant some good or bad act done during his lifetime or immediately before his dying moment. It is a good or bad thought. If the dying person had committed one of the five heinous crimes (Garuka Kamma) such as parricide etc. or developed the Jhānas (Ecstasies), he would experience such a Kamma before his death. These are so powerful that they totally eclipse all other actions and appear very vividly before the mind’s eye. If he had done no such weighty action, he may take for his object of the dying thought-process a Kamma done immediately before death (Āsanna Kamma); which may be called a “Death Proximate Kamma.”

In the absence of a “Death-Proximate Kamma” a habitual good or bad act (Ācinna Kamma) is presented, such as the healing of the sick in the case of a good physician, or the teaching of the Dhamma in the case of a pious Bhikkhu, or stealing in the case of a thief. Failing all these, some casual trivial good or bad act (Katattā Kamma) becomes the object of the dying thought-process.

Kamma Nimitta

or “symbol,” means a mental reproduction of any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which was predominant at the time of some important activity, good or bad, such as a vision of knives or dying animals in the case of a butcher, of patients in the case of a physician, and of the object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc…

By Gati Nimitta, or “symbol of destiny” is meant some symbol of the place of future birth. This frequently presents itself to dying persons and stamps its gladness or gloom upon their features. When these indications of the future birth occur, if they are bad, they can at times be remedied. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man. Such premonitory visions of destiny may be fire, forests, mountainous regions, a mother’s womb, celestial mansions, and the like.

Taking for the object a Kamma, or a Kamma symbol, or a symbol of destiny, a thought-process runs its course even if the death be an instantaneous one.

For the sake of convenience let us imagine that the dying person is to be reborn in the human kingdom and that the object is some good Kamma.

His Bhavanga consciousness is interrupted, vibrates for a thought-moment and passes away; after which the mind-door consciousness (manodvāravajjana) arises and passes away. Then comes the psychologically important stage –Javana process — which here runs only for five thought moments by reason of its weakness, instead of the normal seven. It lacks all reproductive power, its main function being the mere regulation of the new existence (abhinavakarana).

The object here being desirable, the consciousness he experiences is a moral one. The Tadālambana-consciousness which has for its function a registering or identifying for two moments of the object so perceived, may or may not follow. After this occurs the death-consciousness (cuticitta), the last thought moment to be experienced in this present life.

There is a misconception amongst some that the subsequent birth is conditioned by this last death-consciousness (cuticitta) which in itself has no special function to perform. What actually conditions rebirth is that which is experienced during the Javana process.

With the cessation of the decease-consciousness death actually occurs. Then no material qualities born of mind and food (cittaja and āhāraja) are produced. Only a series of material qualities born of heat (utuja) goes on till the corpse is reduced to dust.

Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth consciousness there spring up the ‘body-decad,’ ‘sex-decad,’ and ‘base-decad’ (Kāya-bhāva-vatthu-dasaka).

According to Buddhism, therefore, sex is determined at the moment of conception and is conditioned by Kamma not by any fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum-cells.

The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.

Just as the wheel rests on the ground only at one point, so, strictly speaking, we live only for one thought-moment. We are always in the present, and that present is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions on it, to its successor. Every fresh consciousness, therefore, consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something more. At death, the consciousness perishes, as in truth it perishes every moment, only to give birth to another in a rebirth. This renewed consciousness inherits all past experiences. As all impressions are indelibly recorded in the ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and all potentialities are transmitted from life to life, irrespective of temporary disintegration, thus there may be reminiscence of past births or past incidents. Whereas if memory depended solely on brain cells, such reminiscence would be impossible.

“This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of Kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with, the previous one in its line — the aggregates that make up its composition being different from, having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being since it has the same stream of Kamma-energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense-perceptible world as the new being.

Death, according to Buddhism, is the cessation of the psycho-physical life of any one individual existence. It is the passing away of vitality (āyu), i.e., psychic and physical life (jīvitindriya), heat (usma) and consciousness (vinnana).

Death is not the complete annihilation of a being, for though a particular life-span ends, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.

Just as an electric light is the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, so we are the outward manifestations of invisible Kammic energy. The bulb may break, and the light may be extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another bulb. In the same way, the Kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. But nothing unchangeable or permanent “passes” from the present to the future.

In the foregoing case, the thought experienced before death being a moral one, the resultant rebirth-consciousness takes for its material an appropriate sperm and ovum cell of human parents. The rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi vinnana) then lapses into the Bhavanga state.

The continuity of the flux, at death, is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness.

Rebirth takes place immediately, irrespective of the place of birth, just as an electromagnetic wave, projected into space, is immediately reproduced in a receiving radio set. Rebirth of the mental flux is also instantaneous and leaves no room whatever for any intermediate state (antarabhava). Pure Buddhism does not support the belief that a spirit of the deceased person takes lodgement in some temporary state until it finds a suitable place for its “reincarnation.”

This question of instantaneous rebirth is well expressed in the Milinda Pa񨡺

The King Milinda questions:

“Venerable Nagasena, if somebody dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, and another dies here and is reborn in Kashmir, which of them would arrive first?

“They would arrive at the same time. O King.

“In which town were you born, O King?

“In a village called Kalasi, Venerable Sir.

“How far is Kalasi from here, O King?

“About two hundred miles, Venerable Sir.

“And how far is Kashmir from here, O King?

“About twelve miles, Venerable Sir.

“Now think of the village of Kalasi, O King.

“I have done so, Venerable Sir.

“And now think of Kashmir, O King.

“It is done, Venerable Sir.

“Which of these two, O King, did you think the more slowly and which the more quickly?

“Both equally quickly, Venerable Sir.

“Just so, O King, he who dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, is not reborn later than he who dies here and is reborn in Kashmir.”

“Give me one more simile, Venerable Sir.”

“What do you think, O King? Suppose two birds were flying in the air and they should settle at the same time, one upon a high and the other upon a low tree, which bird’s shade would first fall upon the earth, and which bird’s later?”

“Both shadows would appear at the same time, not one of them earlier and the other later. “

The question might arise: Are the sperm and ovum cells always ready, waiting to take up the rebirth-thought?

According to Buddhism, living beings are infinite in number, and so are world systems. Nor is the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth. Earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable plane, and humans are not the only living beings. As such it is not impossible to believe that there will always be an appropriate place to receive the last thought vibrations. A point is always ready to receive the falling stone.

 

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Dual citizens; shocking rape cases going unpunished

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I have a bone to pick with my co-Friday columnist who writes from across the ocean about the Pearl. In his July 16 column, he writes at length on dual citizens entering the Sri Lankan Parliament while retaining citizenship of another country. He lauds it in no uncertain terms, while most of us natives, living in our motherland, oppose the move that was introduced in the 20th Amendment. He writes: “A Dual Citizen is back as a national list member of parliament. Now, this in a country that passed legislation that banned dual citizens from entering parliament. This of course is something I was and am vehemently opposed to …”

The previous ban which he ‘vehemently opposed’ he pins on the Kaduwa syndrome – inferiority complex; frog in the well mentality; “fear of intimidation, fear, and revulsion of learning anything new from others”. Cass labels his reasons tosh! He goes to the extreme of writing: “The only good thing that has happened is that a dual citizen is back as finance minister, no less. … Our entire national list should consist of qualified dual citizens who have experience gained from the first world.” The implication here is that all our Sri Lankan citizens holding only Sri Lankan passports are no good against dual citizens who to him are nonpareil, more so legislaters. Thus, he casts aside as useless all those holding higher qualification gained mostly locally and are loyal to the country. They to him are less in ability, qualifications, broadmindedness than those who escaped to foreign countries when the going was bad and now return when it suits them. I present sole citizens like Champika Ranawaka, Eran Wickremaratne and Harsha de Silva and very many medical professionals and agriculturists who have shown they are pre-eminently qualified in their several fields, and loyal to Sri Lanka too.

Dual citizens left the country for whatever reason, mostly escaping a sinking ship for better prospects even as second-class citizens. Then they had the bug of nationalism arising in their breasts. This when it suited them; when it was opportune for them to return to their country of birth. They seize the opportunity to be recognised, elevated, lauded; and return from obscurity in a foreign country to hosannas sung by loyalists and promoters of dual citizenship like Rajitha Ratwatte. If they are so loyal and want to serve their mother country, why don’t they give up the citizenship of the country chosen for emigration and become solely Sri Lankan citizens? Oh no, they keep a safety branch handy for escape – to obscurity though – when things get too hot here. Even Basil Rajapaksa took plane to the US immediately after his brother’s defeat at the 2015 presidential election. Now back with several brothers in high power, nephews included; in short, a government mostly by the Family, it is ideal for Brother Basil to return and to boost his return, such loud singing of hosannas and prediction this Knight with superhuman powers will kill the dragon of economic bankruptcy that is poised to devour poor Sri Lanka. He may even banish the virus that has overpowered the entire world. We Ordinaries will wait and watch.

It is no to persons like medical interns who got their entire education- high school plus medical – at government expense and then scooted slyly to greener pastures immediately after getting their MBBSs. This closed door also to those who fled punishments or change of government or jumped the ship they thought was sinking or scooted for whatever expediency. However, those who felt they had no hope of career development in this country or went for higher studies (when local universities were closed for long or did not accept them) and then decided to stay back in the host countries as citizens are welcome back as even dual citizens since their return is prompted by caring for parents and siblings left behind, or wanting to settle down on birth turf and benefit the country with foreign money and expertise gained. Some highly qualified, medical professionals mostly, revisit Sri Lanka and give immense help free of charge. We welcome them wholeheartedly and are grateful. But not those whose motives for returning are purely selfish.

What particularly irked ole Cass were these two statements of Rajitha Ratwatte writing ‘From Outside the Pearl’. “The only good thing that has happened is that a dual citizen is back as finance minister, no less” and “our entire national lists should consist of qualified dual citizens who have experience gained from the first world.” I won’t deal with the first statement. How can he judge whether it is the only good move of government until Basil delivers the prediction of saving the country? Then the promotion of dual citizens to Parliament – “qualified with experiences gained from the first world.” I mentioned how some of these come back to help us but never as politicians or into politics. Those who come into the political arena so far have not advertised their higher qualifications and some have experience in petrol pumping if not dish washing!!

Rape rears its medusa head

We have been hearing and reading about a 15-year-old girl sold for prostitution by her mother and used by the many including some high persons. The case is out in the open and due punishment may be meted out. Another case was highlighted about a younger girl and I was told that social media highlighted a father who abused his two daughters and is in hiding now. Words fail ole Cass to express how reprehensible these cases are: unbridled perverse sexual desire and greed for money; two conditions rampant now. Cass nearly fell of her chair when she read the first page news item in The Island of Wednesday July 21. “National child protection policy not implemented for 21 years, says COPE.” Rather usual in this Paradise Isle gone rotten. But what followed both inundated Cass’s heart with deep sorrow followed by raging fury, though useless. A beautiful, typically dressed 16 year old Tamil girl – Ishalini Jude Kumar – is featured in the article “who succumbed to injuries caused by a fire in the residence of lawmaker Rishad Bathiudeen at No 410/16, Baudhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7.” Stunning. Shocking beyond words. Cass believes the rape and suspects it was continuous but never will accept the self immolation.

This particular MP and former Minister has had two previous allegations against him – the destruction of parts of a forest bordering Wilpattu to build houses for his supporters and association with some Easter Sunday carnage suspects.

Rape and molesting children are extra extra-nasty social evils. The perpetrators must be severely punished. In Saudi Arabia it was said that stealing was punished with hands amputated so…

Cass leaves you on that note – to mull over as Sri Lanka is saved by the Hon Basil R and we get back to being Paradise.

 

 

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To all SIRs I’ve loved before!

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In this day and age where the word SIR has so much effect, my mind has wandered back to all the Sirs and of course Madams’ who guided my life through school and the influence they have had. Of course, covering ALL of them will be hard but the first teacher who springs to mind is a lady and her name was Beulah Rosa, she taught me in Grade 4 and first showed me that encouragement from a dedicated teacher can change your entire life. Moving on to Mrs. Monica Jayasekera inGrade 9 at Royal College, who made me feel that my superior knowledge of English gleaned from my private Preparatory school education was not something to be hidden from my peers who had been through the Royal Junior system that had almost no English teachers. Mrs. Jayasekera made us read out loud to the class and thereby teach them pronunciation and alleviate the fear and intimidation that the feared “Kaduwa” brought to my classmates. On the subject of English Mr. Wije Weerasinghe our revered English Literature teacher in the school, where one was supposed to learn or depart, was able to inculcate an appreciation of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the poetry of Dryden and Keats, and also the mystical writings of John Still together with which we also learned to be proud of our history, and the magnificent past of the land of our birth. He taught a Rugby player (and a front-row forward at that!) about the iambic pentameter and the rhyming couplet and that knowledge has helped in the appreciation of this language that has contributed to my livelihood over the years.

Moving on to Mr. Christie Gunasekera that legendary vice-principal of Royal College who actually taught us how to lace our boots on the first day of practice. A practice that is adhered to even today! To who’s wedding a closely guarded secret, a handful of us prefects of the day commandeered the then army commander’s car (the commander’s son was our head prefect) and “gatecrashed”. Mr. Gunasekera was feared but our love for him and our confidence in his decision-making and judgment told us that he would react favourably. After the customary “Come Here” (accompanied by the crooked forefinger), to us who were lurking in the background at Donald’s studio that he had gone to for a photograph after the Church ceremony. He ordered us to come to his house and produced a bottle of whiskey (Old Parr was the brand, I remember it to this day) and give us a drink! Now we were all over the legal drinking age and it is far too late for any legal action to be taken as all my co-conspirators (or is it beneficiaries) will deny this incident and pin it down to the senile rambling of my crumbling brain. However, let me add that even some devout followers of Islam who were with us that day couldn’t turn down the offer of an Alcoholic beverage from their beloved SIR. They had the good sense to realise that if they were going to break the law of their religion this was the one time to do it! Mr. Haniffa (who was alleged to have the first name of ABU) who took pity on me towards the end of my rugby career at school and offered to teach me his pet subject logic, free of charge and on his own time as he said, “What are you going to do when you leave school, boy”. Mr. Nanayakkara (who was also alleged to have the first name Haramanis and was universally known as HARA) knew every bad habit that the players under him had and tolerated them within acceptable limits. With only token efforts made to apprehend smokers and those who indulged in the odd alcoholic beverage.

Our coaches the legendary Summa Navaratnam whose yells of disgust during practice echo in my ears even today, some 40 years later. Mr. Navaratnam, I would never dare to call him Summa and I have come across writings of today when some of his disciples have bestowed an honorary knighthood on his and call him Sir Summa, could never watch our matches (except during that memorable trip to Thailand in 1978) and therefore probably never realised how his words of wisdom revibrated in our ears during some close-run Bradby Shield victories. That ultimate gentleman Mr. Gamini Salgado who sense of humour and ready wit enlightened so many cricket seasons. The list goes on and it is impossible to cover them all. Those were the real SIRS and Madams of our lives and of our country. Maybe, the soldiers and other members of the armed forces have got it right when they address you as MISTER and deliberately don’t call you sir at the checkpoints that we were so accustomed to during my years in the Pearl. Their SIRS’ are their superior officers and a mere civilian does not fall into that hallowed category.

I dedicate this column to all the Sirs’, and Madams’ I have loved before and wish to convey to them that they will always be a part of my life and offer abject apologies to them for having to share the same title as that they carried with so much honour and dignity, with the bearers of those titles today!

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