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Keeping an Even Keel

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Excerpted from the memoirs of Chandra Wickramasinghe, Retired Additional Secretary to the President

Prologue

Having worked in the public service for 44 years, of which, 22 were spent working for four Presidents, retirement came almost imperceptibly in November 2005.

In these reminiscences, I will endeavour to describe anecdotally (to sustain the reader’s interest), some of the more interesting episodes in my career in the public service from 1961 to 2005. I also propose to deal with the distinct and distinguishing personality traits of the Presidents, and Ministers I had the privilege of serving (reflecting on both, their particular strengths as well as their foibles). I shall additionally, attempt to outline the principles, norms and standards that guided me in the work I performed, as a public officer working under these Heads of State , Ministers and Secretaries to Ministries .

My appointment as Assistant Commissioner of National Housing

It is certainly no easy task going back forty odd years trying to recollect one’s feelings,the excitement and the elation one would have experienced, getting into a good staff position in the Public Service. I only recall being happy but not particularly exhilarated on receiving the news of my appointment by PSC letter under the hand of the Secretary of that office.I recall distinctly that I was, at the time house –bound and too miserably ill with chicken pox, to jump for joy on hearing the good news.

After the mandated quarantine period, which I spent productively, reading Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, I reported for work at the Department of National Housing where I was to function as Assistant Commissioner. My boss, the

Commissioner, was Mr. K.M.D. Jayanetti, a jolly bureaucrat with an impish sense of humour , who on seeing me remarked that my face did not seem too much disfigured by the attack of chicken pox.

He outlined the work of the Department as comprising the construction of Flats and Housing schemes (the State Engineering Corporation was the contractor) for middle income and lower middle income categories and maintaining them once they were given out on rent. He also said that he was assigning me to work initially, in the different sections of the Dept. for a period of one month in order to acquaint myself with the work I will have to handle.

 

Induction training within the Dept.

Accordingly, I worked in the different sections and obtained first hand, an insight into the inner workings of the Department. I was also able to interact with the officers of the different branches who were at the time a smart, intelligent and disciplined lot, thoroughly conversant with and fully involved in, the tasks assigned to them.

I further, spent this interim period gainfully, studying the National Housing Act very closely and reading all the Departmental circulars. Later on when I was transferred to other Govt. Depts.,the first thing I did before assuming duties, was to obtain a copy of the relevant Statute and study it thoroughly and also read up all the available Departmental Circulars. This gave me the confidence I needed to take on and handle whatever assignments given to me.

This was the standard approach I was taught to follow religiously by some senior mentors of mine in the Public Service, who assured me that once this was done, one was reasonably well equipped to handle competently the different situations and the problems one would have to face in the particular Dept./Ministry I was posted to. Leelananda de Silva, my good friend from school days and who was already holding the post of District Land Officer in the Public Service, was indeed a veritable source of guidance and inspiration to me at this time.

 

 

Taking decisions within the policy guidelines laid down

A salutary lesson I learnt from my boss Mr. Jayanetti, was to take decisions boldly within the broad policy framework laid down. When I once submitted a file asking for a direction from him, he called me up and told me that unless it was a matter which was outside accepted policy, I should get used to taking decisions on my own. I still recall gratefully his friendly advice “Do not hesitate to take decisions, where you can justify such decisions, I shall cover you if the need arises.” I have worked on this principle right through my career in the Public Service and I hardly had occasion where I was found fault with by my superiors, for doing anything irregular or for infringing policy guidelines.

The work assigned to me in the Housing Dept.was quite heavy as it involved work relating to Housing schemes and Flats in the Colombo District. There were four other senior colleagues in the Dept. (two of whom ended their careers as Secretaries to Ministries and one as the Public Trustee), who were ever prepared to lend a helping hand to me whenever I sought their assistance – M. Ramalingam, Senerath Dias, C Wijayawickrema and Malcolm Samarakkody.

I remember working very hard to clear the files which used to keep piling up as flat dwellers in particular, seemed to have endless problems, particularly with their immediate neighbors, for which quick solutions were demanded by their importunate persistence that I should personally interview them and hear their complaints. I remember taking bundles of files home and attending to them till late in the night. I recall clearly one particular instance where I had to sign a building contract with the State Engineering Corporation (SEC), I think it was for the construction of the Tower Block near the sea front in Bambalapitiya, running into millions of rupees. Mr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe, who was Chairman SEC at the time, met me and pleaded with me to sign the contract in the absence of the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner, as the former was out of the island and the latter was indisposed.

Having checked with the Legal Branch and the Finance Branch on the correctness of the documentation, I placed my signature to the document on behalf of the Dept. much to the relief of Mr.Kulasinghe who made haste to proceed to the construction site to commence work on an auspicious note! Although I was somewhat apprehensive signing such an important contract document in my capacity as Asst. Commissioner, I was also conscious of the fact that I was on good legal grounds in doing so, as the National Housing Act defines Commissioner to include a Deputy as well as an Assistant. I was guided here by the sound advice given by Mr.K.M.D.Jayanetti who instilled in me the abiding principle that I should not hesitate to take decisions as long as I was acting within the law and accepted policy.

 

Minimum political interference

One redeeming feature at the time was that there was hardly any political interference. The few MPs who met you, were very courteous and very much unlike their pompous and impossibly overbearing counterparts of today, and were prepared to abide by the rules applicable, once these were explained to them. In this sense, I must say that working in the Public Service was relatively much easier and pleasanter in the nineteen sixties than in the seventies and thereafter. As long as one worked within the framework of the rules and regulations laid down, one was safe from being upbraided even by one’s Head of Dept.

 

The Public Service Commission

Authority and control over the Public Service before 1972 was exercised by the Public Service Commission through gazetted delegation. All public servants were acutely conscious of this fact, as much as others including politicians, were painfully aware of it, much to their discomfiture. Working in a Govt. Institution was further, relatively easy at the time, as there was discipline and strict conformity to established norms of conduct and behaviour by all concerned, including Ministers.

Furthermore, financial control was rigorously enforced and cases of malfeasance and corruption were few and far between. I remember the time I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services in 1966, where the Deputy Commissioner while inspecting the cash collections of a Shroff in the Dept. and finding a shortage of Rs.5/= , issued on him a letter of immediate interdiction. This certainly did not mean that the Public Service was totally devoid of corruption. What it did mean was that if and when defalcations and frauds were detected, swift disciplinary action followed, with the punishment meted out being very severe. This kind of summary disciplinary action kept both the laggards and the miscreants on their toes.

 

Department of Agrarian Services

From 1966 till 1968, I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services. Working in the Dept. of Agrarian Services was particularly rewarding as the range of services offered to the public was so variegated, encompassing manifold functions. The purchase and milling of paddy, minor irrigation works, paddy lands (implementation of the Paddy Lands Act),Crop Insurance and the distribution of fertilizer to paddy farmers, were the primary functions of the Dept.

This was the time of Prime Minister Mr.Dudley Senanayake’s ‘food drive’ and the entire Dept. was geared to meeting targets and deadlines for expanding paddy production and the cultivation of subsidiary food crops. Mr. J.V. Fonseka, a fine administrator cast in the classic mould, who was the Commissioner of Agrarian Services, spared no pains to meet the paddy production targets set by the Prime Minister and inspired the officers in the Dept. to work equally enthusiastically and diligently

The work assigned to us was very challenging and onerous as there were many employees in the Dept., like store keepers, who were defrauding the Dept. and accumulating private fortunes. They had to be kept on their toes by surprise inspections of paddy stores. My good friend and colleague, the late Chula Unamboowe, had a penchant for this and his surprise inspections were dreaded by store keepers. Circuits had also to be made to paddy growing areas to check on claims made for damage /loss to paddy harvests following droughts /floods.

I found the work enjoyable as I was able to visit remote areas in outlying Districts and interact with rural farmers. These official circuits which were done in the company of the Divisional Officer, made my work pleasurable as well as satisfying, particularly where we were able to recommend the release of funds for repairs to anicuts and minor irrigation systems, thereby ensuring uninterrupted Maha and Yala cultivations which were a great boon to paddy cultivators who were dependent on water stored in these small village tanks for their paddy crops.

Officers like V.T Navaratne, Eric de Silva, Chula Unamboowe, D Wijesinghe, Rex Jayasinghe, I.K. Weerawardene, Garvin Karunaratna, Neville Piyadigama, Ernest Gunatilleke, with their pioneering efforts, made a signal contribution towards ensuring the smooth delivery of Departmental services island-wide. Being a key Dept. in the agricultural sector, it was no easy task organizing the multifarious activities it had to engage in, covering the entire island. The success achieved in this endeavour was for the most part due to the dedication combined with the exceptional ability, shown by these officers in discharging the tasks entrusted to them. I found this Dept. one of the better Depts. I had served in, as far as the challenging tasks one had to contend with, were concerned.

 

The Land Settlement Dept.

The Land Settlement Dept.in which I did a two-year stint was one of the oldest Depts.,with deeply entrenched colonial traditions. In fact,I was somewhat bemused when I first went to the Dept. to see fading photographs of imperious looking British Royalty hanging on the walls of the office. No one seemed to bother about them and they remained on the walls up to the time I left the Dept. on transfer.

The Land Settlement Dept. was located on the third floor of the old Treasury building, almost cheek by jowl with the prestigious office of the Public Service Commission, where all the interviews for staff appointments in the Public Service including Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) interviews were held . I recall how, so many University friends used to haunt the place, waiting to be interviewed for staff appointments. It was in that sense, to us at least, quite a hallowed place. I still remember how some people who came in shirt and tie without the required jacket, had to borrow jackets from others waiting to be interviewed or had finished their interviews. Some of these borrowed jackets were at times, ill-fitting and expectedly, sat somewhat awkwardly on the wearers.

About one year following my assumption of duties as Asst. Settlement Officer, I was surprised to receive a telephone call from Mr. L.J. de S Seneviratne who was a Senior Civil Service Officer and who functioned as Secy/ PSC, at the time. He addressed me as Mr. Wickramasinghe and politely enquired whether he could come and meet me in the course of the day. As his office was just next door, I respectlfully said, ” Sir, you can meet me anytime, even now”. He thanked me and said he would come straight away. In a matter of minutes the imposing personality dressed in ‘full kit’, as we used to say, walked in and I stood up respectfully and greeted him asking him to take a seat.

Mr. Seneviratne sat down and addressed me, to my utter consternation, as ‘Sir’ and went on to say that he was responding to the notice issued by me, under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Ordinance (LSO), on his wife (who was Sir Francis Molamure’s daughter).He said that his wife had inherited hundreds of acres of land on ‘Sannas pathra’, some of which had already been settled under the LSO and she was now staking her claim to the balance lands that had still to be settled. He then submitted several Sannas for my perusal.

I informed him that I will have to check on the authenticity of the Sannas pathra with the records in the Dept. of Archives before I could make a Settlement Order on her claims. What was funny to me was that, when I was respectfully addressing him as ‘Sir’, which to me was the proper form of address of a Junior to a Senior Officer, Mr. Seneviratne was himself calling me ‘Sir’ during the conversation. It made me even wonder whether Mr.S. addressed me in that manner, out of deference to my position as Inquiring Officer before whom he had to give evidence. I further wondered whether he did so as he knew that a Settlement Order made under the Land Settlement Ordinance was final and could not be set aside even by the Supreme Court. Whatever may have been his intentions, after I recorded his evidence, he thanked me and left.

 

Soon afterwards , Mr Seneviratne retired from Service

I met him once in a crowded lift in the Central Bank building. The poor man appeared lost. He looked around to see whether people would recognize him. Sadly, no one did. When I greeted him, he beamed, I thought this was just ‘the way of the world’. When powerful individuals cease to wield power and influence, they are ignored and are cast into the ‘limbo of forgotten things”. That’s just, ‘in rerum natura’(in the nature of things). This inspired me to pen a few lines of verse on the incident:

 

The Bureaucrat Who Was – ‘All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream’.

 

He gets into the elevator slowly,

Eyeing the seated elevator boy intently,

Getting no response,

He looks around quietly, Knowing him, I avoid his gaze Deliberately.

His disappointment seems intense!

 

A decade ago,

A short trip in a crowded elevator

Would have swung heads towards him,

Magnetically, respectfully;

Yet, now, jostled by the irreverent young,

And ignored by the few who knew him,

This shattered Colossus,

Pygmied by unrecognition,

Moves out of the elevator,

Unsteadily,

Stops at the threshold ,

Blocking my way,

A last pathetic plea – it seems , For identity!

In the milling throng,

I excuse myself and move on – Catching only a sidelong glimpse

Of a broken man’s gratitude, For the small plank Shoved underneath his feet , On the quickening sand.

 

The Land Settlement Act was a powerful statute which empowered Settlement Officers to inquire into claims made by people who had pedigree title to such lands by virtue of their being in possession of ‘Sannasas’ or on pedigree title or valid title deeds or again by their having cultivated such lands over a reasonable period of time. This meant Settlement Officers having to at times, examine archival material etc. to determine the title of these claimants.

Interestingly, one of the claimants under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Act was the then Prime minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. Accordingly, as required by law , I had notices served on her and some other members of her family who also had made claims to a Nindagama land called ‘Rassagala Nindagama’ in Ratnapura, summoning them for an Inquiry. Soon afterwards I received a call from Secy/PM MDD Peiris who was a friend, in the course of which he said “Chandra, you don’t summon the Prime Minister of the country to come and give evidence. I will arrange a suitable date in consultation with her, for you to come over to the PM’s office and record her statement”. I remember apologizing to MDD immediately saying there was no offence meant but that it was done by me routinely as stipulated in the Act. I also requested MDD to obtain a date from the PM and let me know.

I recall vividly the interview I had with that gracious Lady PM. She greeted me rising from her chair and shaking my hand while thanking me for calling over at her office. The PM, I recall, looked quite vibrant , turning around energetically in her swiveling chair, all the time being very attentive to whatever work she was engaged in. I proceeded to record her statement and at the end of the interview, she once again rose from her chair and shook my hand, thanking me for coming over. I recall well, her parting words to me “You take whatever decision you have to on the matter Mr. Wickramasinghe and inform me”



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Covid-19 vaccination: Is it the proverbial ‘Silver Bullet’?

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Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In this emerald isle, people take to any form of vaccination, like the legendary ducks take to water. Offer them a vaccine against anything and they will take it; at least most of them would do so. The vaccine antagonists and anti-vaxxers are extremely few and far between, so as to be almost a virtual non-entity. With a very high literacy rate, and a population that is prepared to take heed to the hilt, the axiom that dictates ‘prevention is better than cure’, it is the absolute dream of the experts in the public health scenario that there is unmitigated abiding interest on the part of our populace to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It has been said that vaccines do not save lives but vaccination most definitely does. Vaccines have to be given to people for them to produce the optimal effects. A receptive population to such a notion is indeed, a much-fancied reverie of all health service providers.

In such a background, it is most laudable that Sri Lanka is going pell-mell, even in an impetuous rush, to vaccinate her population against COVID-19, at what could best be described as at break-neck speed. Even given the spectacle of an insufficiency of adequate stocks of the coronavirus vaccines to freely vaccinate the population, the authorities are making the very best of the situation. We must, of course clearly appreciate the steps taken by the Government and the Ministry of Health in this initiative. The tri-forces, the Army in particular, have to be congratulated, in playing the lead role in organising a scheme of things to administer the vaccines in an orderly fashion. TAKE A BOW; ALL OF YOU, you are indeed giving the very best of yourselves in this endeavour.

Well, the goal is to somehow secure a high enough herd-immunity to defeat the virus; most definitely a commendable final goal. The currently prevalent mantra is to vaccinate, vaccinate, and vaccinate even more. Yet for all that there is much misinformation and an infodemic doing the rounds, especially on social media, about widespread speculations on loss of sexual prowess, impotence, subfertility and infertility, as undesirable effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR ANY OF THESE IMPLICATIONS. NONE OF THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE COVID-19 VACCINES DO ANY OF THIS. It is just stupid covidiocy on the part of a few anti-vaxxers. It has induced a lot of young people to refuse the vaccine. This is a crime against humanity to spread such falsehoods. It is absolutely crucial to realise that the current vaccination drive is just a very important one of quite a few things we can do to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.

We have seen the fantastic results of immunisations against ‘child-killer diseases’ in paediatric healthcare. This author, as a young junior doctor, was witness to the ravages of the much-feared childhood diseases that killed or maimed scores of young children even in the second half of the last century. Those diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, Japanese encephalitis; just to mention a few that took scores of young lives of yore, are a thing of the past now. Adequate vaccination has completely wiped them out. The last case of childhood polio in Sri Lanka was seen just around a quarter of a century ago. The young junior doctors of today and the current lot of medical students have not seen any of these dreaded diseases.

In the child healthcare scenario, vaccination has become the panacea for all ills in the above-mentioned diseases. In the same vein, it is quite reasonable to expect the coronavirus vaccines to provide a similar end-result. However, is it really so? It is a most lamentable fact that it is perhaps not quite so.

There is a well-recognised fundamental difference between all the vaccines that are used to prevent the much-feared childhood diseases of the past and the currently available vaccines against the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic. The vaccines against all those childhood diseases COMPLETELY PREVENT children getting the disease!!!, period. Well, if the recipients are protected against getting the infection, it is the end of the story; a definitive conclusion of the matter in hand.

However, right up to just a few days ago, none of the currently available vaccines against COVID-19, were thought to be able to COMPLETELY PREVENT anyone getting the disease to any appreciable degree. How they work is by reducing the severity of the disease and by preventing the deaths. So…, the basic end-result characteristics of all the currently available COVID-19 vaccines were thought to be quite different to the standard vaccines against all other infective diseases. One could still get the disease in spite of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and would still be able to spread the illness to others.

Yet for all this, there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In a most recent scientific publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, released as recently as 22nd September 2021, an interim analysis of a large study conducted in 99 centres of the USA has shown significant protection against CONTRACTING THE DISEASE as well as AGAINST MORE SEVERE DISEASE AND DEATH by the mRNA-1273 (Moderna/Spikevax) vaccine, administered as two doses 28 days apart. Vaccine efficacy in preventing Covid-19 illness was 93.2%, the effectiveness in preventing severe disease was 98.2% and the efficacy in preventing asymptomatic infection, starting 14 days after the second injection, was 63.0%. Vaccine efficacy was consistent across ethnic and racial groups, age groups, and participants with coexisting conditions. No safety concerns were identified.

Be that as it may, added to all our problems, now there is the daunting spectacle of the various types of variants and mutants, ranging from Alpha through delta, even to Epsilon and most recently to a particularly nasty strain called ‘Mu’, of the coronavirus which could cause problems even in the fully vaccinated. We still do not understand completely the potential impact of these more virulent strains in vaccinated people.

However, a case in point in relationship to these facts is the presently dominant situation in Israel. That country, one of the fastest in vaccination and most-vaccinated nations in the world, in spite of almost the entire population being vaccinated, is having some problems at the present time. By mid-March 2021, Israelis were partying as lockdowns ended and by April, masks had more or less vanished, turning the tiny country into a tantalising glimpse of a post-pandemic future. However, the crafty blight of a coronavirus seems to have come back with a vengeance. From a few dozen daily cases in early June 2021, even zero on June 9, new daily COVID infections twice hovered near 6,000 very recently, the highest daily rate in six months. Having won early access to supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab in exchange for sharing nationwide data on how mass vaccination drives affect the pandemic, Israel is a closely watched indicator of a country where well-inoculated developed economies are heading.

As new infections soared, so did the long tail of hospitalisations in Israel. Even though the unvaccinated were five to six times as likely to end up seriously ill, the vaccine’s protection was waning fastest for the oldest; the most vulnerable, who got their first jabs as early as December 2020. At this rate, health officials predicted at least 5,000 people would need hospital beds by early September, half of them with serious medical needs, twice as many as Israel is equipped to handle. The current Prime Minister of Israel was honest with Israelis when he announced a new measure just a couple of weeks ago, whereby the government was trying to cushion the blow. On August 1, it had started offering people, over 60, a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, embarking on its own public health experiment as it tumbled into an unpredictable fourth wave. So far, 775,000 people have taken their third shot and doctors say they can see antibody counts rising measurably within days of the third jab.

For Israelis, the booster shots are a reminder that they are still on the frontier of Covid-19 vaccinations. They celebrated when they were the first to get jabbed, cheering Pfizer as lockdowns ended in March 2021. Now, they are the first to experience the limits of the vaccine and the first to accept a long-whispered inevitability: the need to give regular booster shots to stay protected.

All these facts tend to bring into sharp focus, again and AGAIN, the undoubted importance of time-tested manoeuvres of avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance of at least one to two metres, wearing suitable and effective masks; even double-masking, and repeated washing of hands, as our own personal weapons against this dastardly blight. Vaccination against COVID-19 will probably not be the panacea for all ills in combating this pandemic, although it would be a very powerful tool in the hands of the authorities in their quest towards victory over this disease. It will certainly not be the ultimate ‘SILVER BULLET’ against the disease.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from Israel today, it is this: corona, in fact, is not over; perhaps not for quite a while. This summer was just an intermission. Next may come winter., sadly perhaps, a winter of discontent. We do hope to high heaven that it may not be so for this beautiful and much-treasured Motherland of ours.

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Proposed Parakrama Samudraya walking path devalues ancient heritage

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

The construction work of the proposed walking path on the Parakrama Samudra tank bund was suspended after the protest of a group of Buddhist monks. Whether it is appropriate for monks to intervene in this matter is a different issue and the objection is admirable because many remained silent over this issue of national significance.

Since then many views, both pros and cons, on the proposed walking path, have been expressed by various parties. Experts in the engineering field express views on the safety of the dam after the proposed construction, which meddles with its existing riprap, the structural arrangement that prevents bund erosion by wind-generated water waves. Some others, including local administrative level officers and politicians see this as essential development for the area. However, technical issues can be resolved at any cost, and I am more concerned about the facts whether this track is a genuine necessity and the possible subsequent damage it can inflict on the historical value of the tank and the image of the great King Pararamabahu.

The objective of a walking path is to help people maintain their health, not only by engaging in physical activities like walking and jogging but also by allowing them to be with nature. While walking and jogging, can improve physical health, a serene, natural environment can improve mental health. If we take an area like Polonnaruwa, which is not as urbanized as many of the major cities in the country, there are ample places that offer the above-mentioned benefits. Further, neither visitors of the area nor residents will use it as a walking track, and an observation platform would be sufficient, if people need to stay safe from traffic that moves along the bund. Therefore, this type of project would no doubt be a white elephant that ruins millions of public money.

There was a time when the leader of the country went about erecting clock towers at every junction. Soon after they were built many of them showed the wrong time due to inferior construction work, resulting from corruption, putting the public in difficulty. Unlike those days, today there is no need for clock towers as everybody has the exact time since everyone has a mobile phone, more accurate than a wristwatch. We have to come to terms with the reality that what we value today would become obsolete tomorrow in the fast-changing world. Who is to say that these walking paths would not become obsolete in the future given the fact that lives of people are becoming complex and busy, and people may turn to indoor gymnasiums and exercise machines?

Moreover, a closer look at some of the already constructed walking paths would reveal that the selection of locations for such facilities was ill-informed, without proper evaluation as they remain under-utilised. One such example is the track that has been constructed in Badulla urban park which is popularly known as the Wawul Park. This park is located on the edge of three main playgrounds of the city; Vincent Dias ground, cricket ground and football ground. The track is blanketed in thousands of droppings of bats that inhabit the trees of the park, the odour of it so foul that it is very difficult to reach the track. Every day hundreds of people walk in the aforementioned playgrounds while the walking path remains abandoned.

Coming back to the topic, after the walking path is constructed, as per the usual practice of the country, a huge plaque will be erected on the bund mentioning the names of politicians who suggested, advised, supervised, participated and declared open the track. There will probably come a day in future when our children, who visit the Parakrama Samudraya, would say that the tank was constructed by this and that politician. Alas! The statue of the Great King Parakramabahu, who had a great vision to manage the water resources of the country, will be disregarded.

Way forward

Before making any structural changes to heritage sites, opinion should be sought from experts and other stakeholders as well. According to personal experience, when I last visited the place a few years ago, people who visited the tank needed no walking path, but being travellers from remote areas, there was a crying need for other basic facilities. They required shelter, water, facilities to have their meals, dispose of waste safely, and a proper waste collection system, among other things.

In addition, a mini auditorium can be constructed at a suitable place in the vicinity, that has audio-visual facilities to educate children about the history of the tank. A model of the reservoir can be used to explain its components and operation. Then our children will not take this amazing Parakrama Samudraya, that they are endowed with today, for granted but learn to appreciate the great vision and dedication of their ancestors in making this marvel a reality.

Let me conclude with a poem I posted on my FB page sometime ago, with its translation.

There is a huge plaque at the end of the tank bund. It reads that the politician is akin to King Parakramabahu. The river downstream overtops with the sweat of the people who built the tank. Still, the people who built the tank are of no value)

(The writer is a Chartered Engineer. This article is based on his personal views and does not reflect those of the organisations where he holds positions)

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Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link

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Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.

Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC

Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”

The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.

Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.

Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.

As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.

The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.

New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!

Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?

Sharply contrasting persons

As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.

The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”

Garlic

Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.

Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga

Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”

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