Reading the above captioned news item in your issue of 31st May, my thoughts go back to the 1960s, when I was attached to the then Department of Public Works [PWD], where provision was available in the Printed Estimates for ‘Improvements to Ex-DRC. PRC and minor roads’. The responsibility of selecting and priority for improvements was in the hands of the Executive Engineers in their areas. However, this provision attracted politicians and they met the Minister for Transport, Public Works and Post to get priorities to their requests, to gain political popularity and some to please friends and relatives or himself. As I was handling this subject, I too participated in discussions at the Ministry, and it was decided to allocate a sum for each electorate and Members of Parliament requested to meet the Executive Engineers to submit estimates on their proposals. It will be surprising to know the allocation for each MP was Rs.10,000/ – and Rs.15,000/- for each Minister. What a ridiculous amount when compared to today’s value of currency? It will also be surprising to know, with these amounts, two to three miles of road could be widened, a mile metaled and tarred or few culverts built. MPs frequently visited the Ministry to meet the Minister with complaints of delays in sectioning of estimates or delays in carrying out work and I was called in to settle matters. Sometimes MPs met me direct as they were so keen, when work was delayed, they came to get a steam-roller sent to help the EE. I have had nasty experiences as well but looking back it was a pleasure to work under those circumstances. By the way, these works were undertaken by Road Overseers of the PWD and estimates prepared by EE. Any sub-standard work was rejected and the Overseer ordered to redo at his own expense. How efficient that arrangement of Road Overseers and today’s execution, I am unable to comment. The formation of the Civil Engineers Territorial Organization [CETO] which replaced the Road Overseer system, during the time of the Mahaveli Development Ministry, was a failure and today we have the Road Development Authority. How they would handle this US $ 200million is to be seen. With these allocations for infrastructure developments, the government should rethink whether it is wise to allocate funds to Members of Parliament, which is alleged to be misappropriated.
It will not be out of place to mention the Asian Development Bank a similar project where ADB had also been very kind in developing rural areas, thus enhancing the quality of life of rural folk which financed the Rural Electrification Scheme for which credit should be given to the then Minister for Power and Energy, and later the President, late D.B.Wijethunga who initiated action to approach ADB assistance and today 95% of villages are reported to have received electricity. Similar to the minor road project, ADB laid down a condition that only profitable, financially viable villages should be undertaken. A thorough survey was done by the Ceylon Electricity Board [CEB] and a list was prepared. This again attracted the politicians to have their requests given priority some of which were not productive, hence rejected. However, they contributed with their allocations under Decentralized Budget to have the work done. They were also very keen in displaying their names on the plaque which the CEB refused to meet from the provision. This expenditure, I understand, was met from the Decentralized Budget of the MP and the lettering approved by the CEB in keeping with the country’s policy. [ Fortunately, it is a ADB funded project and not Chinese where the lettering would be in large Chinese, Mandarin, and the rest, if at all, in small letters]
I have visited most of the minor roads developed and I have seen how those who carried their produce on their shoulders to the town for sale, now use tractors or small vans and children attending school travelling in tractors and bicycles. As for Rural Electrification, I have a very hilarious experience. Once, when I visited a village where Electricity was provided, I saw some using electric pumps to draw water from wells, a carpenter using electrical equipment. The one which amused me was when I entered a house, a senior schoolgirl was ironing her school uniform. Curiosity’s sake I asked her how she ironed her clothes earlier for which she replied she took them to Redi Nanda – Dhobi – or folded the uniform and kept, under her pillow, to be pressed. Of course, the burning electrical lights gave them enough light to study, rather than the kerosene oil lamp.
It is my earnest wish as one who had associated with projects uplifting life in rural areas, that the funds allocated will be utilized properly, for the wellbeing of the rural folk and make them stay in their villages without migrating to towns for employment, with the cooperation of politicians, in the same manner as done in 1960s, devoid of corruption and substandard work
Rtd. Assistant Secretary,
Ministry for Power and Energy & Highways
MPs can show their colours
I refer to this article, ‘Covid bonanza for….’ by Shamnidra Ferdinando.
It was obvious that the LC could not easily be cancelled. It will be interesting to know when the LC was actually opened; before or after Cabinet approval? The answer will be revealing.
Now that the vehicles will come in, come hell or high water with burning ships, there is a simple solution.
If the government is sincere in its intentions to reverse this totally unnecessary expenditure, which the country cannot afford, scraping the bottom of the vangediya as it is, then the vehicles can be sold in the open market, in a transparent manner and at a profit, too, and the wasted funds reimbursed to the Treasury. Personally, I know this will not happen, seeing what we are helplessly seeing being enacted in the country yesterday, today and alarmingly, tomorrow, too.
The next best option is for those MPs who oppose this criminal waste of public funds, to work out a method by which they can sell the vehicles presented to them by the starving masses, in a transparent manner and utilise the proceeds again in a transparent manner to uplift the lives of the millions of poor citizens in their electorates.
ACabinet given opportunity for Members of Parliament to show their true, even if highly faded and smudged, colours!
Gazette Bill in blatant conflict with Constitution
The Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill had been gazetted on March 24 after Cabinet approval, and placed in the order paper of Parliament on April 9. Normally, before placing a Bill on the order paper of the Parliament, it goes through the levels of the Legal Draftsman, Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet of Ministers.
According to a news item that appeared in the Daily News, on April 27, the Attorney General has informed the Presidential Secretary that the Port City Economic Commission Draft Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution. But the same Attorney General has advanced the submissions and amendments in court, during the hearing of 18 petitions filed by members of civil society alleging the Bill is inconsistent with the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has found more than one third of its clauses are conflicting with the Constitution – the supreme law of Sri Lanka. Thus, it has been proved the Gazette Bill was in blatant conflict with the Constitution.
High officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General and the Legal Draftsman who are supposed to have been involved in the drafting of this Bill are professionals of recognized capability. They are committed to follow the best practices of their professions and should adhere to standards in procedural manuals and professional codes of conduct and ethics. They are bound by the oath taken by them in line with the Constitution and the accountability of the offices they hold. They also would have been supported by several legal eagles and experienced politicians in the Cabinet.
Citizens are confused as to how on earth such a Bill, in blatant conflict with the Constitution, could have been approved by the Attorney General and be drafted by the Legal Draftsman. 149 Members of Parliament have voted to amend 26 clauses of 75 clauses of the Legal Draftsman’s Bill. This is tantamount to a No Confidence Motion on the Legal Draftsman.
Probe into expressway construction and floods
The news item appearing in your issue of 10th June, regarding the Expressway Construction and Floods, is of interest to me, as I had handled Road Projects when attached to the then Department of Public Works [PWD] and later the Ministry for Highways.
It’s stated that Minister Johnston Fernando had instructed his Ministry Secretary to investigate immediately, whether there was any truth in the claim that some areas in Gampaha were inundated owing to the construction work, in the first phase of the Central Expressway, from Kadawatha to Mirigama; and continues to say ‘Yahapalana adjustments to the construction master plan may have lead to the present situation’, which could be insinuated as placing the blame on the previous Yahapalana government. This is the usual blame-game adopted by bankrupt politicians. It will not be surprising if the present government will be blamed when a new government is formed, for mismanagement of projects carried out now.
As far as I know, while construction is on, there comes up certain problems, which may necessitate altering or deviating from the original design. Hence the responsibility lies entirely on the Engineer, and not on any politician or government in power. Here the integrity of the Engineer counts. Sad to say, there have been accusations where professionals have given way to political pressure and projects have become failures. I would like to quote Moeller’s theory “One of the major reasons for a country to be subjected to bad governance is when its professionals do not speak out, but worst still, these professionals actually gang up with those committing anarchy for their own benefit. What the professionals do not realize is that in the long term, they too would be subjected to the worst treatment by these despotic dictators whom they were keen to protect. Moeller’s theory being proved time and again consorting with an autocratic regime is a worst act of treason against one’s own country and its people”
To the credit of Minister Johnston Fernando, he also mentions the likelihood of this flooding by saying “We must keep in mind that the highest rainfall in the known history was reported from this area”. Whatever, the findings of the investigations be, the accusation should be taken as fault finding of Engineers, and they should now come forward to protect their prestigious profession and give reasons, which lay, incompetent politicians, do not have the capacity to understand. Hope the Sri Lanka Institute of Engineers will expose the viles of politicians to steer this country in the correct direction. This goes for other professions as well.
G. A. D. SIRIMAL
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