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New thinking on elections and minority claims

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This refers to my recent letter, published in The Island, on the question of reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil communities. Since it can be misconstrued by some of our ultra-nationalists, and even by well-meaning educated persons, I wish to add something more to it, which is in the nature of safeguards and caveats. I received emails from two retired medical specialists, living overseas, one in full agreement with my views, the other somewhat non-committal.

The main line of my thinking about the riddle of the merger of the North and Eastern Provinces, is related to the pact between the Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike and the Tamil leader Chelvanayakam and Regional Councils proposed by the late PM, Mr. Bandaranaike as a solution of the Tamil problem and an antidote to the oppressive repercussions of the Sinhala only Act, on the Tamil speaking citizens of our country. At that time, if my now ageing memory serves me right, the proposal of the late PM got shot down by a fast carried out by some Buddhist monks, supported by some English-speaking Sinhala leaders.

Some of the safeguards I have in mind to forestall a Sinhala cry of ‘dividing the country’ are as follows.

1.Elections to the NE Council should be held not on party lines, nor on ethnic or racial lines, but on the basis of individual worth, their “personal worth” be it educational attainments or assets and other achievements as in entrepreneurship. A new scheme of elections is proposed, where some electors will be entitled to more than one vote. The rationale underpinning this seemingly outrageous proposal has to do with the current unwise scheme of elections, where the majority of voters in the Ratnapura District have chosen to send a convicted criminal to Parliament, while an educated electorate in the Colombo district did the correct thing and voted out a Prime Minister and a Minister of Finance, both of whom are suspected to have helped themselves to billions of Rupee funds.

This new method is based on the educational levels of the voters. For example, a voter with less than the O/Level will have one vote, one with O/Level will have two votes. Those with A/Level three votes, those with diploma or equivalent, four votes, those with a degree, or professional qualifications, five votes and those with post graduate, or equivalent level qualifications, will have eight votes, and so on. Income tax payers also should have extra votes.

2. Police powers should be retained by the centre. Leaving arms and ammunition in police stations in the new amalgamated NE Province could be a temptation to the residue of LTTE rebels still living in hiding.

3. Land matters should be left to a separate Commission. No racial, religious or social group should have special rights and privileges.

4. It is well known that Tamils, Hindus or, to a lesser extent, Christians, are believers in the discriminatory social hierarchy of castes, and as such they tend to discriminate against their brethren of lower castes. Furthermore, Tamils, in the north, consider their brothers in the east as persons of lower status. This was one of the reasons for the split between Prabhakaran and the Karuna and Pillayan duo. There is no such problem among the Muslims and Sinhalese, although the latter also have an antiquated hierarchical system among them, activated especially on ceremonial occasions like prenuptial visits/bargains, marriages and wedding table protocol. The caste system is strictly observed by one Buddhist sect, a matter that goes against the Constitution. Regrettably, the two main Sinhala caste groups have done little to eliminate this unbuddhistic inequity.

5. Since there could be opposition to the settlement of displaced persons or poor landless people of the country or even to the establishment of places of religious worship intended for minority religious groups in the NE ( which does not exist in the rest of the country), the Land Commission or the Central Government should be empowered to be the final arbiter on such matters. The Tamil or Muslim homeland theory needs to be banished from our history. In an age of global systems there should be no place for minority ethnic/religious groups to find niches for themselves.

LEO FERNANDO

Pitipana, Negombo



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Opinion

Send them back to school!

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We are not talking about our children going back to school but about the request made by the Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella to allow parliamentarians to enrol in the Sri Lankan Law College, or any other university, to further their studies. How about the basic qualification to enter university? Talking about the basic qualification we remember there was a talk some time ago about some members who have not got through even their GCE (O)Level, a bare minimum qualification, required even for a peon in a recognised organisation or in government services. We request the Chief Opposition Whip to request, on behalf of these members, to allow them to go back to school, no matter how old they are.

We remember one SAARC member country brought in a regulation saying that all those who come forward to contest a seat in the parliament should possess a university degree and at the submission of nomination the officials detected that nearly 20% of the certificates were fake. Anyway, we are proud that such things are extremely rare in our country.

Finally, I urge Kiriella to include schools, too, for MPs, who need the basic qualifications for university admission.

S. H. MOULANA

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Opinion

Compensate victims of gas explosions

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There is no shortage of hot topics for the media these days, the latest being the unusual occurrence of gas related accidents. Any ordinary person would understand that the present series of accidents are certainly due to the release of newly arrived consignment of gas cylinders whose composition ratio of propane and butane has been altered to maximise profits.

The responsible institutions and authorities as well as some ambidextrous politicians are defending the culprits who deny any change in the gas composition. The special committee appointed by the President to investigate into the matter, seem biased. The other day the public saw (through the TV news footages) that these so-called experts were trying to bully the innocent victims of these accidents, accusing them of the use of worn out hoses and regulators as the main reason for the incidents. Why the hell can’t they figure out the fact that these accidents are all due to the use of the newly bought wrongly filled cylinders. A committee of this nature is useless if its aim is to serve the vested interests. Instead of blaming the victims, one compulsory question they should ask is if the cylinder is newly bought or an old one. It is sad that this Kekille committee of experts is also trying to put the blame on the innocent consumer and defend the businessman.

All that the government should do at this critical hour is to introduce a mechanism to collect the data of the victims of these explosions and pay due compensation to them forthwith at the expense of the concerned gas company. The ministry in charge should also issue an urgent order to the company to recall the return of all these defective gas cylinders distributed to all districts and take immediate action for refilling them with the correct prescription of the chemical composition and issue with a new label giving all required instructions. In the meantime, the Consumer Protection Authority must ensure that accessories like the hoses and regulators, conforming to the SLS standards, are available in the market at least from now on for the safety of the consumers.

M. B. Navarathne

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Opinion

Banks make a killing at depositors’ expense

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The motive of the government decision to lower the interest rates of deposits was predominantly to engross the banks to lend at lower interest rates for entrepreneurs to boost the economy of the country which is in dire straits. However, would this proposal prove productive?

Owing to this absurd stunt senior citizens and pensioners have been left high and dry high and dry, resulting in unprecedented agony and anguish. Many victims have highlighted their grievances on behalf of the distraught senior citizens and pensioners. This much spoken of government’s harsh decision to lower interest rates has made the lives of senior citizen’s and pensioners miserable with the escalating high cost of living, skyrocketing cost of medical expenses, etc. It is pertinent to mention that monthly interest rates on fixed deposits, which they mostly rely upon, have been reduced to alarmingly low 4% and 5 % which has added to the woes already the senior citizens face.

All senior citizens who are not receiving or entitled for a pension, depend solely on monthly fixed deposit interest as the regular source of income for their living. As a result of lowering interest rates of deposits, their plans have all been shattered causing them to be wondering how to make ends meet.At this dire juncture, the intervention of the President is needed to revoke this unreasonable decision of lowering the interest rates of deposits.

The only redress the senior folk benefits is by the Central Bank’s special scheme of 15% interest for senior citizens. However, in this too the senior citizens have been slapped and battered with a Rs 1.5 million ceiling.

In comparison to the reduction of interest rates of deposits, if one takes into account the number of loans granted to entrepreneurs at lower interest rates the answer would be very negligible, particularly as the bank’s do not take risks to lend to entrepreneurs whom they believe to have projects not viable. The banks of course, would show enhanced profits at the end of the year as they have paid the depositors lower interest rates which reflects as plus mark for their balance sheets. This is a blessing in disguise for the management of banks at the receiving end of impoverished pensioners and senior citizens.

In the above contest the intervention of the President Gotabaya Rajapakse is most needed to bring about redress to ‘distressed” senior citizens and pensioners

Sunil Thenabadu

Brisbane, Australia

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