Mystery of latest Covid Cluster and its origin!
The latest massive Covid-19 surge of over 1,700 cases at the point of writing popularly referred to as the “Brandix Cluster” is fast becoming the most formidable and challenging denominator of the nation’s GDP and Public Health.
Apparently, the contact source who impregnated the worker in Brandix with the virus is still not found. The charge must be criminal negligence since the Covid-19 which had hitherto been a localized threat is now, thanks to this dynamic infusion, is spreading its insidious tentacles across the island. The chase for contact tracing is on as this new second wave Covid-19 unleashes a systematic devouring of our citizenry, across the island.
Successive public relations statements of M/s Brandix have taken great pains to vehemently declare their innocence of having been a party to this serious resurgence of Covid-19 in hitherto unprecedented spread and numbers. Apparently, the company has been able to secure letters from the Government Health authorities that the plane loads of passengers coming in from India to Sri Lanka, at the behest of Brandix, were all subject to requisite quarantine formalities and were free of Covid-19 on discharge. The company also glibly asserts that none of the passengers from the three airplanes from India to Sri Lanka have entered their Minuwangoda Brandix facility during the past two months i.e. August – September 2020.
Meanwhile, some of the testimonies coming out of affected workers in Brandix are damning to any company which provokes the same. According to some media reports apparently there were those who were sick and infected before in the factory with some fainting and treated on the premises for influenza and not directed in time to a Government Hospital for Covid testing. There are recorded statements of employees who claim that they were forced to work without leave, even after reporting sick, denied protective health equipment, reports of external inspectors who visited the factory premises purportedly the buyers’ representatives from India, of three batches of passengers from India staying out their quarantine in hotels in Sheraton Hotels in Kosgoda, Long Beach in, Koggala, and hotels in Wadduwa, allegedly without the supervision of Public Health Inspectors, etc., are a just a few of the claims made.
Infections in Brandix offices in Colombo and multiplier effects of community wide transmission from those with links to Bandix Covid-19 patients are now island-wide. A manager from Brandix who visited the deep south has been diagnosed with Covid-19 and thus puts an end to the tourism in that region! Thus, the actual circumstantial evidence of the proliferation of the Covid-19 from Brandix premises far and wide is intractable, short of being an immaculate conception to those who continue in denial of responsibility.
Hence the need of the hour, in such a dire predicament, is how the nation could best contain the present Brandix Covid-19 eruption by learning from its identified mistakes and lapses in this debacle. The truth must not be a casualty in this vital process. Apportioning of blame must be for purpose of redeeming the situation from chaos to at least near normalcy. It is only by acknowledging lapses and systemic inefficiencies that necessary safeguards could be ensured for the industry as a whole with renewed regulations for factory working conditions and health and safety and compensation from those responsible for and careless disregard of health regulations at work site. A mea culpa stance is more suitable for a company professing a philosophy of “Garments without Guilt” than a defensive series of public statements each vying with the other for exoneration of responsibility for this eruption on their remit. Such honest acknowledgment was there in the much smaller self-contained Welisara Navy Covid Eruption where even his Excellency the President and Navy top brass were quick to realize and admit their lapses and remedy the same with speedy efficiency.
Professional integrity, love of country and its people, corporate social responsibility in all sincerity and purpose not merely to impress one’s European buyers and obtain tariff concessions, is what the public expects and deserves amidst the fiasco that is being played out. Whilst the nexus between Business and Politics: “You scratch my back and I scratch yours” is well known the world over, some deceptions are enough to crack even the bovine intelligence of a few. All the people cannot be fooled all the time. And it takes strength and courage to admit the truth.
Daring siege of the Cultural Ministry
The University of Colombo, Sri Lanka was established in 1979 in accordance with the provisions of the Universities Act No. 18 of 1978. The university was given all the land from the road joining Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Reid Avenue (later named Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha) right up to the Thummulla junction.
There were the court premises set up to try the insurgents of 1971, the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), the Queen’s Club, an unauthorized temple which had everything else like car wash, canteen, night life, etc, except what should be found in a temple.
Of these the university was able to get rid of the bogus temple. The request to get the CDC premises did not materialize as the then Secretary of Education turned it down. Later these buildings were taken over to house the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
One day in the early 1990s just prior to closing time the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of Student Affairs came into my office and told me that the Students Union is planning to take over the Buildings of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Their plan was to wait till dusk and get in surreptitiously two by two. I told the Senior Assistant Registrar not to divulge this to anybody else and to wait till the following morning to see the outcome.
When we reported for work the following morning, I asked the Senior Assistant Registrar as to what had happened. He said the mission had been successfully accomplished and now the students were occupying the buildings. It seemed that what the university had been trying to get for a long time, the students had successfully achieved in one night!
On the second day the students who were occupying the buildings were a little agitated, telephoned me and asked whether the Special Task Force (STF) was planning to surround the building with a view to oust them as the STF personnel were occupying vantage points on buildings in the vicinity . I telephoned and inquired from the OIC of Cinnamon Gardens Police station, and he told me that there was no such plan and that they were only watching the situation. I conveyed this to the students and allayed their fears.
A meeting was convened at the Ministry of Higher Education to see how the problem could be sorted out. At the meeting a student showed a copy of a Cabinet decision where agreement had been reached to hand over the CDC buildings to the University of Colombo. The Minister of Cultural Affairs at that time, Mr. Lakshman Jayakody, was surprised and asked the student as to how he got the copy of the decision as even he had not seen it. The student stated that he did not want to divulge the source.
The Minister stated that his immediate need was to get the pay sheet and cheque book as the employees had to be paid their salaries. The students were adamant not to surrender, and they stated that this was done as they needed hostels. Hence the decision to lay siege to the buildings. Mr. Jayakody agreed to vacate the buildings so that the university could make use of them.
That ended the saga of the famous siege of a Ministry building by a few daring undergraduates. The buildings were used to house the newly established Faculty of Management and Finance. The undergraduates were accommodated in other buildings in Muttiah Road and Thelawala, which were handed over to the university to be used as hostels.
HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE
Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera
Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera who passed away a few days ago was a dynamic personality who headed not one but two national universities in Sri Lanka. It was as the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) that I first encountered him, an encounter that highlighted Professor Wijeyesekera’s powers of perseverance and persuasion. During the late 1980s, I was happily ensconced at the University of Colombo when I started receiving messages from Professor Wijeyesekera to ask me to consider moving over to the OUSL. The proposition did not seem very viable to me at the time and I ignored his calls But for almost two years, he persisted until I finally gave in and shifted my academic career to Nawala- a move never regretted.
OUSL at that time was in the throes of changes and innovation, most of which were spearheaded by Professor Wijeyesekera who had taken over the leadership of OUSL in 1985 at a most controversial time. Perceptions of the OUSL were negative and the authorities were even considering closing it down. With his characteristic vigour, Dayantha Wijeyesekera set about putting things right bringing in changes, some of which were most controversial and even considered detrimental to OUSL.
In spite of opposition, he stuck to his vision and it is testimony to his persistence that a number of changes have lasted to this day – Faculties headed by Deans instead of Boards of Study headed by Directors, Departments of Study and not Units, a two-tier administrative system akin to the conventional university system of Council and Senate. To help support students who needed to come to Nawala for workshops and laboratory classes, he established student hostels-another move deemed by his critics as undermining the concept of Distance Education. The hostels still stand and have even been expanded.
Other changes were welcomed such as his indefatigable pursuit of state –of the art technology for OUSL. The OUSL’s centre for Educational Technology was a gift from Japan due to Professor Wijeyesekera’s efforts. And it was in his period of stewardship at OUSL that the first ever language laboratory to be established in a Sri Lankan university was set up in the Department of Language Studies – a gift from KOICA, the South Korean aid agency.
During Professor Wijeyesekera’s tenure as Vice Chancellor, the OUSL experienced growth and expansion in academic sectors too. During the 1980s, the university had only a handful of centres but under Dayantha Wijeyesekera the number rapidly grew- there were Regional Centres in major cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna. Study centres were set up in towns throughout the island and he was more than supportive when requested permission to establish teaching centres for English in smaller urban conglomerations such as Akkaraipattu .
Academic programmes blossomed. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for example had just one Bachelor’s degree, the LLB, during the 1980s. In Professor Wijeyesekera’s time this grew to include a Bachelor of Management Studies, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and the first ever Bachelor’s degree in English and English Language Teaching. The first degree programme for nurses in Sri Lanka, the BSc. In Nursing, was established at the Faculty of Science with support from Athabasca University in Canada. In addition there also sprang up a whole cohort of Certificate and Diploma programmes catering to the diverse needs of professionals all over the island.
The growth of the university was reflected in the expansion of facilities. New buildings sprang up on reclaimed land bordering the Narahenpita-Nawala Road – a new Senate House which offered space to all the administrative sections and had a spacious facility for Council and Senate meetings. A three-storey building was provided for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and a new Library building took shape near the Media Centre.
In addition Professor Wijeyesekera reached out to international centres of Distance Education and Open Universities across the world. In the early 1990s, he hosted with aplomb the Conference of the Association of Asian Open Universities (AAOU) and OUSL became a respected member of the AAOU as well as of the Commonwealth of Learning.
Dayantha Wijeyesekera began his career at OUSL in 1985 when the fate of the OUSL hung in the balance. Under his stewardship, the university burgeoned into a national university, a leader in Distance Education which others sought to emulate.. When he joined the OU, the student enrolment stood at 8,000. When he left, nine years later, there 20,000 students registered at the university. It was his hard work, his dedication, his commitment to academic progress that helped transform the OUSL.
May his soul rest in peace.
Open University of Sri Lanka
X-Press Pearl disaster
It will be a crying shame if we fail to get the much wanted and much spoken about compensation due to us for the monumental maritime disaster caused in around our shores when the X-Press went down.
Our government and all those departments and ministries responsible had ample time to make a water tight claim to make the compensation 1claim to the right place. The best available brains and talent to deal with this complex problem involving a host of subjects including the ecology, marine biology, shipwrecks, the law of the sea, maritime laws and whatever else should have been organized to fight our case.
The moment the disaster occurred, all concerned should have acted with single minded dedication to make a strong claim for compensation. Much video and other evidence of the damage done is available. All of us are aware of the shoals of fish, turtles and other sea creatures that died and were washed ashore and the plastic and oil pollution of our beaches. Some of those creatures that died live for over 100 years.
What we saw on our shore post-disaster was a heartbreaking sight. I don’t think it’s possible to assess the ecological damage done in monetary terms. The plastic nurdles the ship has been washed as far as Matara and it is said the acid pollution caused will be with us for a century. Fishermen have suffered great hardship by the loss of catch.
The case filed is being heard in Singapore. I hope the verdict will temper justice with mercy. The damage and misery suffered through no fault of ours is untold.
Padmini Nanayakkara, Colombo-3.
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