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Prime privatisation; vandalism in Paradise Lost

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Cassandra received an email a couple of days ago, parts of which she quotes below, after googling to verify facts. A news item on Monday 24th moved her hand to do this; the news being that Sri Lankan is flying at a loss. No surprise; known for a long while. What stunned Cass, however, was the billions of debt incurred for these three months of the year. In contrast see what India has done. India will be hosting the 2023 G20 Summit of 20 member nations in New Delhi in September and Biden is scheduled to visit the country. Yes, VIP nations are scrambling to further good relations with India, with respect to the country and its economic advancement. On the other hand, the Teardrop that hangs at its bottom from being serendipitous and doing well, has been pushed to be a failed state, looked askance at, or if pitied and considered worth being charitable to, treated with a handout or two.

So here quoted is a para or two from the email received. “Air India announced on February 14 that it had placed orders for 470 Airbus and Boeing aircraft. It is being touted as the largest purchase in commercial aviation history.” (Monday 24 Lankan news said most of Sri Lankan planes, on loan, were undergoing repairs).

To continue quoting, “This is a classic story that highlights the transition from a state-owned loss making, corrupt and inept organisation to a private entity that has assessed the market and has made acquisitions to build up the business… India’s national carrier, Air India, was officially handed over to the Tata group on January 2022. The handover ends a years-long attempt to sell Air India, which has raked up losses worth $9.5bn. The national carrier was founded by JRD Tata in 1932 and nationalised in 1953. The acquisition is the country’s most high-profile privatisation under PM Narendra Modi and ends decades of losses and bailouts for Air India.”

Over here

And what pertains in this country apart from Sri Lankan Airline’s flabbergasting losses? A sinister drama involving a past AG who dared say there seemed to be a hidden hand in the Easter 2019 attacks on churches and hotels. He and his home have been targeted by, it has to be assumed, goons ordered by someone high up.

The second most pressing issue is obtaining compensation from the owners of a ship loaded with nitric acid and plastic catching fire and sinking in our most precious sea. The Minister of Justice himself has given info he got that directs to an act of corruption that is almost impossible to believe: that someone or some group wanted to reduce the amount asked for in damages and earned a tidy pile of dollars, supposedly deposited in a bank in England. Far too complicated for Cassandra to even comment on. A claim for damages properly put through could have got billions of dollars to our Treasury because our sea was vastly detrimentally damaged. Cass’ only comment is that not even the devil himself, Satan or Mara would do the bankrupt country such damage as to have the amount sought in compensation, and given, reduced. So, if what the Minister was told is true, there walk and live (well we suppose) Sri Lankans who are worse than the devil in whatever manifestation he appears.

Very probably these two serious issues will remain unsolved. Who loses? Sri Lanka and its people. Who gains colossally? Your guess is as good as poor Cassandra’s.

General lack of public spiritedness

The term ‘public spiritedness’ is here used by Cass to mean “having or showing active interest in public welfare or the good of the community.”

Steering clear of political happenings and dangerous ground, Cassandra moves to a subject that needs to be impressed on people. It is the total lack of public spiritedness which connotes disregard for public property – its correct use and care given – that has to improve. As school kids we had it dinned in our heads to have respect for public property which meant proper use of utilities provided, with care and caution not to damage in any way. I still clearly remember our first Ceylonese Principal in our Kandy school announcing at the school assembly that every student should be public spirited and for example, use a toilet and vacate the room spotlessly clean and with not even a drop of water on the floor.

Cass has often complained about noise and misbehaviour in places of worship, more especially of Buddhist veneration. The precincts of the most sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura are never silent; either kapuralas are chanting asking for favours for supplicants from god knows where. The Bodiya is to be venerated in silence; Buddha’s enlightenment remembered with gratitude; and reflection on one’s seela and Samadhi. Often poojas in the vihara below are loudspeakers blasting whatever little quiet there is.

I narrate two stories relevant to prove how badly people use public amenities and spaces.Two nieces braved a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura by public transport. The air-conditioned bus was fine. On reaching their destination, they needed to freshen up. Intending to go to a hotel they saw a very well-facaded set of public toilets. So, they decided to go in. The outside was completely fallacious as regards the inside. It was originally fitted superbly but within, toilet seats were broken, flushes damaged, the ground wet and atrociously smelly. A large mirror was badly cracked. The surmising was that only a deliberate act of vandalism could cause such damage to it.

The next story involves is what a European diplomat in Sri Lanka; narrated to me, hence believable. He and his driver were travelling to Nuwara Eliya, when they had to be behind an open vehicle that was carrying merry makers. The men were seen to be drinking and the women and kids singing. Then one man threw an emptied arrack bottle to the tea estate beside the road. The diplomat, highly angered, ordered the driver to overtake the vehicle which took some time on that hilly terrain. Once overtaken, he ordered that the vehicle be blocked. Mr DPL got down, went up to the van and told them they had to retrieve the thrown bottle and that if they did not do so, he would get the police to helicopter to the spot. Consternation resulted with the men becoming restive and the woman shouting at them to do as told. Both vehicles turned back and the bottle was retrieved. Conclusion is a question. Did the men learn a lesson and dispose of litter in a correct manner thenceforth? Not possible to believe since this careless use of public amenities and even space is ingrained and imbibed in our people from birth.

Sri Pada is a spot of sanctity, beauty, sheer majesty and popular during its season. After the season the area is combed to collect and dispose of rubbish carelessly flung aside. Hillocks of trash are made; such the indifference of people to the environment and keeping premises clean. Pickpockets too are co-trampers up the hill, such that hundreds of emptied purses are found strewn in the underbrush below.

When will Sri Lankans learn to keep their environments and surroundings clean and free of carelessly flung rubbish? Does it have to take strict authoritarianism to insist on decency?

Welcome news items

Heartening news was that a brand new, posh OPD section for the general hospital was gifted by the Govt of China. Great relief when the Chinese Ambassador said it was an outright gift from his great country to us poor failed state. How very sad that last is, but true, driven to it by satanic political leaders and top administrators. Here the Chinese helped with immense loans being given.

A most heart-warming news item was US Ambassador who is ever moving and mingling with common folk, Julie J Chung, graciously chatting and showing genuine amity meeting farmers and, more specially their wives, in Anuradhapura. A woman farmer said that due to the huge America gift of fertiliser delivered to them, the next harvest would assuredly be bountiful.

That is the way matters must be done: give in kind to the needy people: patients and farmers in the two bright news above. Never give money through high ups. There is a rampant disease among them called corruption. Only minus is that when this disease takes hold, the person thrives, girths increase and they live happy as ever. Cass adds – notwithstanding our curses.

Ambitious octogenarian

President Biden has announced his plans to run for re-election in 2024. If he wins, he will be 82 and 86 when his term ends. Trump who has also announced his candidature is close in age – 78 in 2024. Biden is already the oldest to be Prez. He is said to be a ‘healthy, vigorous 80-year-old’ although he has been treated for this and that including a slow growing skin cancer. He has had no major medical problems; doesn’t smoke or drink and exercises regularly. But very recently he was camera caught napping during important meetings, even when the Russian diplomat was addressing the UN.

Does this mean there is no chance that a descendant from an Indian parent will be head of the US, matching how it is across the Atlantic in the British Isles? In any case her popularity has declined, it is averred.



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Pernicious, ubiquitous strikes

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Railway strike

Local news on most TV channels is almost wholly about on-going strikes and preparations plus controversy on the to-be-held presidential election come October.

Political news is centered on this election. Chief protagonist, the present Prez, has said the election will be held at the correct time this year. UNP side-kicks and a maverick have countered this by saying it need not be held since at the present juncture it is best to postpone change by two years. The present incumbent has a further one year to serve according to the Constitution said the bright spark, who filed an application in the Supreme Court was roundly dismissed by it, with an implied but unsaid upbraiding for wasting the time of the Apex Court.

People surmised filing a case was with the approval of the Prez or his Secretariat if not actual promotion, but RW dismissed that suspicion; “I firmly believe that the President’s term is five years, and I support the Election Commission’s steps to hold the Presidential Election in 2024.”  So there! Three cheers! The Prez is on the side of the people who want an election. It is correct constitutionally too.

Political platforms are raucous with praise of their chosen candidates, with photographs of VIPs who have recently changed loyalties in the forefront, some giving shocks to viewers. They seem to have turned 180 degrees or even 360, now championing a candidate they tore into with sharp barbs of ridicule and criticism. To serve themselves to continue in the most lucrative job in the island, they will turn cartwheels and leapfrog from one party to another. Such are most visible in the meetings held to promote Ranil W, as our next president.

Karadara kara strikes

Strikes of varied nature and kinds are rampant so much so that half the time news is telecast we see crowds marching or standing around with police facing them. These strikers are three quarter responsible for the chaos the country is in at this juncture when all should be contributing their might to pull the country out of the morass it was pushed into by its leaders. Cass has so many epithets to express her revulsion at these spectacles that are a shame to the country at large. Don’t those sick note presenters, continuously striking non academics, utterly disgraceful and unethical, nay immoral, teachers know the country is still in the economic doldrums and unless everyone pulls his/her weight we will remain down in the sludge of bankruptcy, notwithstanding IMF assistance and nations having shown leniency in our debt restricting process.

The trade unions demand monthly increases of Rs 25,000 and even more. Don’t they have an iota of sensibility in them to know this is no time for strikes whose demands cannot be met and the strikes making worse the parlous state of the country with lost man hours? Many a striker deliberately loses man hours of work when  supposedly working in their jobs: teachers sit chatting in staff rooms, tea breaks are more than an hour long; leave is taken at their whim and fancy, never mind completion of syllabuses or school exams; least of all consideration of the students in their hands.

Cass heard of students who had completed their university degrees not being able to get their certificates due to the prolonged strike of non-academic staff. Thus, employment and even accepting scholarships from overseas universities have been thwarted.

Train strikes came unannounced. Wednesday morning Cass received a call from weekly domestic help: “No trains running and so I cannot come.” She was expecting very urgent financial help. She wakes up on these days of work at 4.00 am; cooks for her family; walks a mile; boards the train and is in my flat at 7.30 am sharp. Now she is never sure whether she will have to turn back with no trains running. When health sector workers strike, and even doctors of the recent past have resorted to this deplorable ruse, it is a matter of life or death to some. A person called Mudalige was seen smilingly distributing leaflets while protest marching, the cause of which Cass could not catch nor fathom. He thinks himself a saviour; he is a destroyer.

A silver lining appeared. Cass watched on TV news Prez Ranil chairing a meeting with financial secretaries. They expressed their opinion strongly and clearly that salary increases were impossible to give and money printing was now taboo with the IMF overseeing matters financially. And the Prez concluded that it was not possible to give in to strikers. That gladdened the heart immensely. We hope he will be of the same opinion regarding MPs’ demand for tax free luxury limos and life-long insurance for them and theirs in addition to the pensions they now receive after just five years of warming comfortable chairs in the Chamber.

The Editor of The Island of Wednesday July 10, has in his style of sharp and spot-on comment, criticism, blame laying and solutions to be taken dealt with this common bane of Sri Lankan existence. (We don’t ‘live’ now, the word connoting security, justified happiness and fairness to all; rather do we merely exist). He writes under the title Strikes, demand and harsh reality and points out the fact that there are about 1.5 million public employees, working out to about one state worker for every 14 citizens. Preposterous! Only possible in SL, a land like no other where politicians and their chits are to be mostly blamed for this imbalance. Culling or weaning of public servants should be started. Then strikers will not go by instigators of strikes who plan to destabilize the country, but cling to their paying jobs.

How the Iron Lady broke the back of strikes

Cass recollected how newly appointed Conservative PM, Margaret Thatcher, manoeuvered to stop strikes of coal miners and earned the hypocoristic of ‘Iron Lady’.

Cass surfed the Internet to refresh her memory. In 1884 –85, UK coal miners’ strike was a major industrial action in an attempt to stop closure of pits that the government deemed uneconomic; the coal industry having been nationalised in 1947. Arthur Scargill was a name remembered as instigator and leader of strike action. Some minors worked and so, starting in Yorkshire and Midland, the back of the year long strike was shaken and the Conservative government went to work and allowed closure of most British collieries.  Margaret Thatcher was credited with breaking up the ‘most bitter industrial dispute in British history.’ The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) strategy was to cause a severe energy shortage that had won victory in the 1972 strike. Thatcher’s strategy was to build ample stocks of coal; to retain as many minors as possible; and to get the police to break up strikes, which were ruled illegal in September 1984; they ended a year later. Miners suffered but the country gained.

It was heartening to hear that the railway has been made an essential service. Station masters said they would go on striking. Drastic measures have to be adopted to stop such anti-national activities.

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Why human capital development is essential for Sri Lanka

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by S. D. Gamini Jayasooriya
Wayamba University
gaminij2025@gmail.com


The development of human capital is of immense importance for the economic development of Sri Lanka. Thus, investing in education and skills training raises the overall productivity and effectiveness of personnel, spurring innovation and economic growth. Analysing the current situation in Sri Lanka, human capital development can be seen to be of particular importance for creating a competitive economy.

Levels of Human Capital Development

Human capital development in Sri Lanka can be categorised into three main levels: school-leaving level, higher education, and tertiary levels.

School Level: The primary and secondary level of education are indispensable at the basic level. Promoting quality education for children creates a pool of educated human capital in society. Special attention should be paid to raising the level of education, revising curricula, and integrating the use of new technologies in education processes.

Higher Education: In particular, specific skills and knowledge are cultivated at universities and colleges. Improving funding, research and industry linkages in higher education institutions help to produce ready-made graduates to suit the global market demand.

Tertiary Level: Vocational training and technical education are crucial in preparation of people for the job market with relevant skills. Thus, increasing and enhancing vocational training centers would provide solutions for skill deficiencies in different sectors, making the population fit for the actual needs of the economy.

Sri Lankan Labor Market Overview 2023

The Sri Lankan labor market in 2023 has strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. Currently, unemployment trends are still elevated, especially within the youth bracket, while skills supply does not match the skills demand in the market. There is a lack of qualified workers in a number of fields including the IT, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.

A major part of the population is engaged in the informal economy and most of them may be in the low wage employment. This state of affairs requires proper human capital development policies and the enhancement of skill and formalization of the labor market.

Importance of a Skilled Workforce in Economic Development

Skilled workforce is one of the prerequisites for developing the economy of a particular country. Employment of specialized personnel leads to increased output, creativity, and effectiveness in many sectors. They can respond better to innovations in technology and fluctuations in the market thus promoting more economic growth and competition.

Human capital is also an element that enriches the stream of foreign investment. They are likely to be established in places where human capital is readily available to them in terms of skills. This can lead to the generation of employment, technology distribution and enhancement of the economy on a whole.

Recommendations

To enhance human capital development in Sri Lanka, several strategies should be implemented:

1. Improve Educational Infrastructure: Make sure that there is infrastructure development in schools, adequate provision for the needy student, and teachers are in a position to teach.

2. Strengthen Higher Education: Encourage partnerships between universities and industries to ensure the delivered curricula align with the market needs. Contribute towards the improvement of research and development.

3. Expand Vocational Training: Increase the number of vocational training centers and adjust the offered programs to suit the current employment market. Promote the actualization of vocational education as a worthwhile career.

4. Promote Lifelong Learning: Encourage continued learning through offered adult education and online classes.

5. Government and Private Sector Collaboration: Encourage government and private sector to work together and identify the areas that require skills and come up with relevant training needs.

Conclusion

That is why human capital investment must become a priority in Sri Lanka. Investing in education and skills training of the people at all levels will enable the development of a competent and versatile human resource pool. This will help spur economic development, encourage foreign direct investment, and build a stronger and more competitive economy. It is for this reason that the management of human capital should be done strategically to foster the future growth and stability of Sri Lanka.

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Sixty-five years after entry to university of Ceylon, Peradeniya

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University of Peradeniya

by HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

It was sixty five years ago, and that is very long time ago, on 29 June 1959 that a batch of 378 students from all parts of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) entered the portals of the most beautiful university at that time, the University of Ceylon, situated in the salubrious surroundings in Peradeniya, just four miles from the historic city of Kandy, after having successfully passed the then University Entrance examination conducted by the university itself, to read for our varied degrees in Arts, Oriental Languages, Law, etc.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement and sometimes with dismal and gloomy feelings, varied feelings produced from a sense of uncertainty and new-found freedom. The drive through the campus from the Galaha Road junction through the picturesque setting, well maintained lawns and well-laid out flower beds (Sir Ivor Jennings and Mr. Shirley De Alwis together had done the selection of the trees and shrubs very meticulously to bring out the blending of colours), the imposing architectural marvels of Jayathilaka and Arunachalam Halls, the Arts Theatre, the Senate building, and Hilda Obeysekera Hall and the tree sheltered kissing bend and up the winding road to Marcus Fernando Hall( Mr. Shirley De Alwis had planned out the general scheme, landscaping which was his favourite and all other details), brought thoughts to one’s mind which were mixed with perplexity, bewilderment and abandonment. One was entering a make-believe land, very artificial but, at the same time, very fascinating.

There were two significant things in respect of our batch of 1959. Ours was the last all- English medium batch to enter the university. The second important thing is our batch was the first batch where all the students were admitted directly without a viva voce, as up to the previous batch the students were selected both directly and some after facing a viva voce.

Though sixty-five years have gone by, we have not forgotten the best experience we had during the three or four years we spent in the beautiful campus. It is sad that many of our batch mates are not with us now having left us and moved into another world and not being with us to reminisce the glorious time we spent as residential undergraduates.

To all those who entered the Peradeniya campus before us and to our batch, that university will remain in our minds as the one and only university in then Ceylon as the University of Ceylon, which had been established by the Ordinance No. 20 of 1942 and situated in Colombo. It was in the early nineteen fifties that the campus of the University of Ceylon was established in Peradeniya.

The single university continued until 1959. It was only in 1959 that two other universities were created, namely the Vidyodaya University (now known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura) and the Vidyalankara University (now known as the University of Kelaniya) which were established by the Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University Act No. 45 of 1958.These two universities were created by upgrading the two famous Pirivenas (Vidyodaya and Vidyalanakara) that were functioning at that time.

That period we spent at Peradeniya was one of the most unforgettable periods of our lives. The friendships that we cultivated while in Peradeniya remain and will not be erased from our minds.

It would be of interest to those who followed us much later to read for their degrees how the undergraduates were selected in our time. We sat the University Entrance examination conducted by the University of Ceylon in four centres, namely, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Galle with the Department of Examinations having nothing to do with it. Thank God! However, if any candidate wanted to obtain the Higher School Certificate (HSC) such candidate had to sit the extra paper at the same examination and if successful received the HSC certificate from the Department of Education.

The results of the examination were not sent either to the schools or the candidates’ homes. The results were published in the daily newspapers. As such, the results of our batch were published in the The Ceylon Daily News of Wednesday March 11, 1959. Thereafter, after a lapse of a certain period of time, the successful candidates received letters from the university informing of the date of commencement of sessions of the academic year, the Hall of residence allotted and the date to report at the allotted Hall.

There was also a document indicating what we had to take, such as a raincoat and cape, etc. and the things that should not be done in which there was one item which stated that ceiling walking was prohibited. This was a little puzzling to us, but we understood what it meant later when we were on the campus. All undergraduates who were privileged to be in Peradeniya at the commencement of the campus and may be about four batches after ours had the best of time in a university in Sri Lanka.

During that time all undergraduates resided in the halls of residence throughout their undergraduate carrier, even if a person’s residence was abutting the campus premises. All those who entered from schools in and around Kandy could have easily travelled from home. But the university rules and regulations did not permit us to do so. Anyway, when reminiscing, we think that it was good that all had to be resident within the campus as we would never have got that experience otherwise.

On the occasion of the EFC Ludowyke Centenary at Peradeniya in 2006, Prof. Yasmin Gooneratne, a distinguished alumnus stated thus:

“Of the terms most frequently heard in connection with the life that we experienced there, one is “A Golden Age”’ another is “Arcadia”. 2It was a magical time” says one classmate.” It was idyllic” says another. Our companions-some of them husbands, wives, or children who did not share the Peradeniya experience, and who now have to hear us talk about it ad infinitum, look skeptical. They don’t believe us.”

“Peradeniya? Three years in Paradise” a classmate said once. “And at the end of it, they even gave us a degree”

“It was as if all the intellectual brilliance in our country had been concentrated in one spot. If the university had been a stage, we students would have been witnesses to the performances of a stellar cast”

During our time in Peradeniya the halls of residence for males were Arunachalam, Jayathilaka, Marrs, Ramanathan and Marcus Fernando. The female undergraduates had as their halls, James Peiris, Sangamitta and Hilda Obeysekera (with Mrs. Cooke, Dr. (Mrs.) Ram Aluvihare and Miss Mathiaparanam as the respective Wardens). During our final year in 1961-62(third year in the case of those who had opted to do a special degree course), a new hall was opened, which had been named after D.R. Wijewardena close to the Kandy-Colombo railway line. With this building being opened, there was a change in respect of occupants of some halls. Ramanathan was converted into a women’s hall and James Peris was made a hall for male undergraduates. The newly opened Wijewardena Hall became a men’s hall. With this change, the male undergraduates who were in Ramanathan Hall were transferred to James Peiris and Wijewardena Halls. (To be continued)

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