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Squadron Leader Prasanga Balasuriya (RWP)26th Year of Remembrance

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There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for something worthy. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater – freedom and unity of one’s country – nation’.

That is the sort of bravery we saw in ‘pint-sized’ Bala’ as we, his batch mates used to call Prasanga, the shortest of the two Balasuriyas, and quickest among a group of young but masculine sportsmen chosen for the 19th Intake of officer cadets to serve Mother Lanka back in 1988. We chose the Military in the backdrop of two simultaneous guerrilla wars that turned into insurrection, in the Southern and Northern parts of the country.

This month when we remember fallen war veterans all over the world, I’ve chosen to speak about late Squadron Leader Prasanga Balasuriya, among many others who sacrificed their lives in the defence of Sri Lanka’s national security and the territorial integrity for our past, our present, and our future.

Bala, my batchmate and roommate for a shorter stint at Air Base Ratmalana, was a character full of humour and laughter – but when he is serious, he means business. An Avionics maintenance engineer and a qualified air crew communicator for the Chinese built transport fleet by profession. He was very well accepted and a sought after communicator by all fixed wing aircraft pilots in the Air Force, during the flying days at the height of missile threatened skies in the mid-1990s. I wish to outline here that our teams were ready for the future of our fight against terrorism – the threats we face, and the way in which we met them. However, on the morning of 18th November 1995, my vivid memory recollects, on that Saturday morning, I saw this Chinese built cargo plane – Yankee 8, taking off into somewhat gloomy skies, with this extraordinary young crew on board conveying military cargo for the fighting troops and medicine for the masses in the Northern Peninsula. This crew comprised some who not only led that fight, but who could have led our country for decades to come. Bala was a few months into his marriage to a pretty young lady, where I had the privilege to be chosen as his bestman in September 1994. Bala was dreaming to become the proud father to their unborn first child. Still, he opted to volunteer to be part of these routine flights, instead of spending some quality time with his family and friends. He set aside these family obligations to honour and support all the men who have given their time in service to this country we love. They are heroes, each and every one. They gave Sri Lanka, the most precious thing they had – “the last full measure of devotion.” And because they did, we are who we are today – a free nation, dreaming to be the greatest in the world.

At a time when only very few of our people remember, the service and sacrifice of our men in uniform isn’t always readily apparent. That’s partly because our soldiers, sailors, and airmen are so skilled at what they do. It’s also because those who served tend to do so quietly. They didn’t seek the limelight. They didn’t serve for our admiration, or even our gratitude. They risked their lives, and many gave their lives, for something larger than themselves or any of us: the ideals of liberty and justice that make our country a beacon of hope for the world.

The purpose of Memorial Day. To remember with gratitude the countless men and women, who gave their lives so we could now live-in peace and freedom. And we must do more than remember them.

An enemy missile hit this routine flight that Bala was part of the crew, over the Northern seas, while approaching the landing at Air Base Palaly. My dear friend Bala and his smiling face were not lucky enough to recover from that crash landing of the Yankee 8 into the seas of the Indian Ocean. His son was only an infant of six weeks old when Bala left this world. On that same fateful and unforgettable day, I had to represent his family to identify his silent remains when it was brought to Ratmalana air base – this memory still keeps vibrating in my mind.

What is left with us today, we must care for the loved ones that our fallen service members have left behind. And every day, let us work together to preserve what Prasanga and all our valiant heroes laid their lives for and their sacrifices – to make our country even stronger, even more fair, even more free. That is our mission. It is our obligation. And it is our privilege, as citizens of Sri Lanka.

“Thank you for putting yourself in the way of danger to save others, to save our motherland. This is what it means to be a hero. This is what it means to build a beautiful legacy, Thank you for everything”

My Dear Prasanga, May You Attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana!

Wing Commander SANJAYA FERNANDO (Retd),

19th Intake Sri Lanka Air Force.



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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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