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Mother Lanka weeps for you 



The Public Service

By  I. P. C.  MENDIS

In the melee, the people of this country find themselves today, it is quite evident that there is an instant need for the country’s Public Service to return to its pristine glory.  It could be said without contradiction, that the Public Service has lost its honour and independence and the rot set in with the introduction of the Republican Constitution  of  1972., the provisions  of  which  were re-affirmed in the Constitution of 1978, tightening the screws further and paving the way for politicisation. . The appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of public officers are  vested with the Cabinet of Ministers and all public officers hold office at pleasure.  (  Article.55).  The Cabinet of Ministers is  empowered to delegate such powers   to the Public Service Commission,   other than in respect of Heads of Departments. Provided that the Cabinet of Ministers is  enabled to delegate powers of transfer  to any Minister  in respect of any category specified.  The PSC or Committee thereof,  is powerless to intervene.   An aggrieved party has no recourse to any court, or tribunal,  except to the Supreme Court, under para 1 of Article 126 (Fundamental Rights).  Indeed, servility and politicisation  of the Public Service has been consciously enshrined constitutionally !   Independence can only be ensured at personal cost and only where conscience, principle,  integrity and public estimation can play an integral part for such considerations to provide a turbo boost to moral,.  Other pieces in the jigsaw puzzle, have  necessarily to fit in.   One has to provide for some leeway for  special circumstances and unenviable situations considered personal . but certainly not when national interests are at stake or any issue cuts across principle, integrity or  the very grain of minimum standards expected of a  “homo sapiens” .in the service of the nation. !   Indeed, the country witnessed recently how a lady officer stood her ground single-handedly, against various odds.   However, it often happens that news   reports are distorted, mis-reported or based on hearsay/mis-representation, in which case, it behoves on the powers-that-be to come to the officer’s  defence or assume responsibility. –  (perhaps too much to ask).

Recent Instances

One is the case of the Secretary to the Treasury who  was reported to have signed the Kerawalapitya  Agreement.  Both the Minister of Finance and the Secretary  are silent and it is still anybody’s guess as to who signed it. Why,  Oh Why ? If there is nothing intrinsically wrong, why the secrecy ?  To brush off queries saying  that there are two more Agreements to complete the transaction is to dodge and imply there is no finality. That  is not what is expected of quarters that have  the purse strings with them and are endowed with sacred trust to safeguard national assets as Trustees.

Cheek by jowl write  it is the serious allegation made by Minister Wimal Weerawansa that

the Kerawalapitya  proposal was not in the  Agenda of the particular Cabinet meeting, even quoting the Secretary to the Cabinet as having told the Minister concerned that he had not even read it , having received it a while earlier,   Minister Weerawansa maintained, that there was no discussion on the Cabinet Paper , corroborated by certain others in the ” group of eleven”. However, the relevant. Cabinet minutes allegedly  reflect a position which showed that the  Cabinet proposals had been approved by the Cabinet.  The situation is as far as media reports go  confusing as some Cabinet Ministers (outside the group) claim that the ” group of eleven” had every opportunity of expressing their views at the meeting which implies that the proposal was  presented for discussion. Nevertheless , if there  has been any opposing view on the part of the Minister or Cabinet Secretary,in  regard to the allegations made by Minister Weerawansa, the country has

 had no  information so far.   Such serious allegations without the slightest doubt qualify to be furiously challenged and suitably dealt with, yet their apparent continued silence is deafening and does no good either for the govenrnent or those concerned. .The Secretary to the President in a separate incident has set the precedent in  initiating steps for seeking legal remedy for what he considers as an affront to his integrity, I believe. Similarly, the allegation against the Cabinet Secretary  is  serious enough for him to pursue action not only  to vindicate himself  but also to uphold the honour and dignity of the Public Service.

Moreover, in the context of the fast depreciating and deteriorating  confidence  and mis-trust in the Public Service, it is  very essential for top public officers to lead by example, particularly where  the Secretary to the Treasury was once considered as “primus inter pares” ( the first among equals) in the category of Secretaries which honour as far as could be remembered was later passed on to the Secretary/ Defence, and the Cabinet Secretary too enjoying a close relationship in the hierarchy.   Mother Lanka mourns the present predicament and weeps for a speedy restoration of  the pristine glory of the Public Service  for which a return to the pre- 1972 era is undoubtedly  a “sine qua non”.

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Ampitiya That I Knew



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Expert advice on tax regime



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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