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Opinion

Whither UK?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The ‘British Bombshell’, some of us were praying for, unfortunately never materialised! Had Rishi Sunak been elected the leader of the Conservative Party on 5th September, it would have been a bombshell of unimaginable proportions: a politician of Indian origin becoming the British Prime Minister! In fact, it would have been a double-whammy for the former ‘Colonial Ruler’ – as India overtook the UK as the fifth largest economy only the previous day. Times are changing fast and the East is beginning to dominate the world; it is only a matter of time before China overtakes the US as the world’s largest economy, if it has not already done so. But that is another story.

Liz Truss was lucky. Perhaps, not as lucky as Ranil Wickremesinghe, but believers in astrology would surely claim that they have similar horoscopes! No one expected RW to be president and, similarly, Liz Truss was never the front runner when the contest started to find a leader for the British Conservatives, following the exit of disgraced Boris Johnson. Just like Ranil, Liz Trust too is not the people’s choice: far from it, as I will show.

When Boris was forced to resign for violating the rules he himself introduced during the pandemic, the Conservative Party started the two-stage process of electing the new leader who would become PM automatically. The first stage consisted of five rounds of voting by Conservative MPs, eliminating the lowest polling contender/s at each stage. There were eight contenders, and at every stage Rishi Sunak topped the poll. Liz Trust was the distant third in the first four rounds, but became second in the last round, most unexpectedly.

It was left for the party members to choose the leader, from the top two voted by MPs. From 21 July to 3 September, Rishi and Liz took part in TV debates, in addition to a number of hustings held around the country to woo the voters. In a country of 66 million people, ultimately it was around 180,000 conservative members who were choosing the next PM! From the outset, pollsters were predicting a landslide victory for Liz Truss which, in a way is understandable as herd-mentality reigns supreme even in humans. However, the result was closer than expected, though it was a convincing victory for Liz Truss who polled 81,326 votes, whereas Rishi Sunak’s tally was 60,399. This, no doubt, was due to the superior performance of Rishi in the hustings. Further, the economic programme he proposed was far more pragmatic; tackling inflation, not tax cuts as proposed by Liz Truss.

In view of her advancing years, Her Majesty was unable to return to Buckingham Palace. Therefore, breaking tradition, Boris had to travel to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to tender his resignation, and for Liz Truss to receive the invitation from the Queen to form a new government, which she did in double -quick time. Her return to Downing Street was delayed by the British weather and, after addressing the nation from outside No.10, she set about shaping her new Cabinet.

Within hours it became pretty obvious that there was a total purge of Rishi Sunak supporters, and those who supported her and were close to Liz Trust have been handsomely rewarded. One such beneficiary is our own Ranil Jayawardena, who was fortunate enough to be a minister in one of her previous departments. He is the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Rural Affairs and Food. He is the first British Cabinet Minister of Sri Lankan origin and we should be proud of his achievement. Well done, Ranil. Congratulations!

To her credit, Liz Truss’ Cabinet is the most diverse in British political history and it is very significant that, for the first time, a white-male is not occupying any of the four greatest offices of state. Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chancellor and James Cleverly, Foreign Secretary are Black, whilst Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary is of Indian origin. Although her father is originally from Goa, she is a practising Buddhist, who took her oath of office, as Attorney General in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, on the Dhammapada. Of the 31 members of her cabinet, 10 are women including Therese Coffee who is the Deputy PM and Health Secretary.

Whilst Liz Truss deserves congratulations for very successfully showcasing the talented ethnic diversity of modern Britain, she has made no attempt to unite the party. In fact, she has done just the opposite. Further, her economic policies are cause for concern. The current severe economic problems UK faces, largely due to the continuing war in Ukraine, are not likely to improve, as she is as enthusiastic as Boris about the Ukrainian war. On her first day in office, she accepted an invitation from President Zelensky to visit Ukraine!

In the UK, gas and electricity prices tripled in March and are due to triple again in October. Inflation, which had been under 2% for a very long time, was 10% in July, and is progressively increasing. It is feared that many may have to choose between fuel and food in the winter, and the number of families that are dependent on food banks is progressively increasing. Although the situation is not anywhere near that in Sri Lanka, Britain is heading in the same direction.

Truss has promised to reverse the tax increases Rishi Sunak introduced for the next year, when he was Chancellor. In fact, she went further and promised tax cuts. To alleviate energy poverty, Rishi planned a tax on the windfall profits of energy companies. Liz Truss opposed this, stating that making profits was conservative policy! When Rishi Sunak offered financial support to the needy, Liz Truss opposed saying handouts were not conservative policy but reversed her stand during the campaign, as she met stiff opposition. In fact, she is well known for U-turns, the best instance being Brexit; she was a strong Remainer but now says she fully supports Brexit. Apparently, she made a mistake being misled by faulty projections from the Treasury! She made so many U-turns that in a TV debate, the compere, having enumerated about ten U-turns, said “Will the real Liz Truss, please stand up!”, to the loud laughter of the audience.

For tax cuts coupled with increased spending, she will have to borrow more and more. No doubt it will add to the inflationary pressure. Looks as if the UK is heading the same way Sri Lanka has done for years. The way things are, it is very likely Liz Truss will lose the next general election due in 2024, even if she does not do too badly, as Conservatives have been in power for 14 years. We will have a labour government for five years and what it will do, nobody knows! Whether Rishi Sunak will replace Liz Truss as Conservative leader after the next election defeat, and become the first Indian origin PM of UK subsequently, only time will tell. Nothing is impossible but variables in politics are unfathomable!



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Opinion

Power tariff hikes and need to revamp CEB

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By Ordinary citizen

Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has again requested for an increase of 70% in electricity tariffs to settle its past losses. What are these losses and how can the CEB be run as a profit-making Institution? Recently, the Chairman of Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) has claimed that the CEB had a net profit of Rs. 1 billion last month owing to the increase in rates a few months ago. Is it fair to burden an already economically oppressed public with a 70% increase in rates? While the CEB is making these unfair claims, the minister is silent on solving the problem which is the CEB itself. He even claimed that half the employees of CEB are redundant and what has he done to remedy this situation? CEB and Ceypetco are the biggest loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOE). In spite of losses they continue to pay bonuses and huge salary increases to its employees. They get a 25% salary increase every three years and recently CEB paid Rs. 3679 million to its employees under various ruses. In spite of that CEB employees recently demanded a 36% salary increase and the management has agreed to pay the usual 25% increase and this is at a cost of Rs. 9 billion! A meter reader in the CEB gets a salary of Rs. 120,000, about twice paid to a graduate teacher. General Manager of CEB gets a salary of Rs. 655,310 and a Grade 1 engineer gets a monthly salary of 533, 895 according to their own circulars. In addition, they get additional remuneration for site inspection, overtime, fuel allowance, telephone bill reimbursement etc.

These disproportionate salaries have arisen owing to the high handedness of the Board of Management which has taken decisions against court orders, cabinet decisions and Management services decisions. Since the whole country is dependent on the electricity supply, all Governments in the past have conveniently sidestepped confronting the CEB employees and given all what they ask for.

The Auditor General has pointed out that CEB has paid 1712 million in 2018 and 1873 million in 2019 going against cabinet decisions made in 2007 and Management services circular of 2009. In 2014, CEB Board proposed a 100% salary increase to only Engineers (circular no. 2014/GM/46/Pers dated 27 November 2014 and according to a Court decision (CA/WRIT/193/2015) this circular is illegal, null and void and any payments based on this circular is illegal. However, flexing its muscle, CEB granted a 85% of the salary as an allowance to engineers through Presidential decision on the advice of the attorney general which tantamount to contempt of court. Our politicians have been intimidated with the threat of strikes so as to cripple the entire country and they have no spine to oppose such exorbitant salaries and allowances of CEB employees. They have openly flouted the Government rule that limits all allowances to a maximum of 65%. If we consider other allowances on top of this 85% salary it comes to a whopping 138% of the basic salary! Furthermore, even the PAYE tax of its employees is paid by the CEB in clear violation of the Inland Revenue Act which specifically says that the income tax of an employee has to be paid by the individual and not the employer. These matters have been questioned by the COPE on several occasions but no corrective actions have been taken.

This reminds me of the courage Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew had in dealing with a work to rule campaign of the Singapore airline pilots union in 1980. He summoned the pilot’s union representatives and gave them a choice. In his legendary remarks, he told them, “If you continue this I will by every means at my disposal teach you and get the people of Singapore to help me to teach you a lesson you won’t forget. And I’m prepared to start all over again or stop it,” Lee said. He further said, “They know that I’m prepared to ground the airline. They know that I can get the airline going again without them. And let there be no mistakes about it. Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I spent a whole lifetime building this. And as long as I’m in charge, nobody’s going to knock it down.” And with that, the matter with the Pilots union was resolved. We do not have leaders of Lee Kuan Yew’s calibre and put the country first leaving aside politics. They meekly surrender to unfair demands of strong unions such as those of the CEB who hold the whole country to ransom with strike actions.

Other actions of the CEB have contributed to the losses incurred by the CEB. They have continuously scuttled cheaper energy options such as solar and buy power from private power plants at exorbitant rates. The powerful Engineers union has blocked new power generating projects such as the 300 MW LNG plant Sobodhanavi. According to them it is cheaper to purchase emergency power from private power plants which is far from the truth. Also, some of these plants could have been absorbed by the CEB through the initial agreement, yet they continue to pay not only the unit cost but also their investment expenditure. CEB has procrastinated actions on at least eleven low cost renewable energy projects in the Long Term Generation Expansion Plan (LCLTGEP) for reasons best known to them and although former President Gotabhaya in his election manifesto promised to get 70% of our energy from renewable sources, the high handed CEB Engineers: union has continuously opposed the implementation of any of the renewable energy projects. Some examples are the 100 MW solar projects at Siyambalanduwa and Pooneryn and the 100 MW wind power project at Pooneryn.

It is grossly unfair to burden ordinary consumers with high electricity tariffs when a complete overhaul of the CEB is what is needed. If the engineers’ union completely blocks such low-cost projects, it is better to go for a 100% privatisation of the CEB, which appears to be the only solution. No politician either present or past have the courage to face the unfair practices at the CEB and this requires the action of the Government at the highest levels and the parliament should debate this crucial issue in parliament and come out with a long-term strategy to provide for our energy needs. Our President appears tough on hapless student leaders and what actions he proposes to take against them. However, he has been silent on this crucial issue while the treasury is pumping around Rs. 500 billion annually to sustain the corrupt CEB and this amount has not even been included in his budget speech. No wonder why we are in such a precarious position where our economy is crumbling.

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Opinion

Alan Henricus- A Stalwart Sportsman Of Yesteryear Passes Away

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Alan Henricus (10-Feb 1933 – 26 Nov 2022)

by Hugh Karunanayake

Alan Henricus the youngest of five outstanding sporting brothers who represented their school Royal College, and their country then known as Ceylon, passed away a few days ago. He would have been 90 years of age if he survived up to his birthday in February next year.

The Henricus brothers grew up in Kohuwela where their father a former Feather Weight Boxing Champion of Ceylon lived. He served as an administrator of the sport first as Hony Secretary of the Amateur Boxing Association of Ceylon and later as its President. He helped build the Baptist Church in Nugegoda and was its Treasurer for 25 years. The road leading to their property was named Henricus Mawatha in honour of this outstanding family.

Alan represented Royal in Boxing, Athletics and Rugby, and won school colours in all three sports. He was also a school prefect, highly respected and regarded by both his schoolmates and staff. The family consisting of five brothers and two sisters were all nurtured in the best sporting traditions of colonial Ceylon. Eldest brother Barney represented Ceylon in boxing at the Empire Games and won a gold medal winning the feather weight title. The next, Basil, held the national record for 100 yards sprint and I believe his record still stands. He also represented the Havelocks Sports Club and All Ceylon at Rugby. The next brother George, for many years the Master Attendant in the Colombo Port was also a champion boxer, as was Derrick the fourth in line.

Remarkable sportsmen such as Alan reached their great heights from a base of raw innate talent fostered by regular training and a disciplined approach to life. When I was a 10-year old schoolboy I used to watch with awe and admiration Alan doing his training run at 6 a.m in the morning, jogging all the way from his home in Kohuwela to the Havelock Park and back on most weekends. Alan was senior to me in school by about three years and in those days that was an age gap filled with respect and admiration for a senior student. To us younger kids the high achieving Alan was a hero.

I recall in one Public Schools Athletics meet for the Tarbat Cup, either in 1950 or 1951,Royal College was able to obtain a total of 15 points only, and were never serious contenders for the trophy. However the 15 points that Royal earned was almost single handedly collected through Alan’s efforts. He won the pole vault event, was first in the 120 metres hurdles, and was a member of the 4 X 400 metre relay team which won the event. Although the Tarbat Cup was won by another school, the assembled gathering of Royalists carried Alan shoulder high around the grounds!

From school he was selected for training as a Naval officer cadet in Dartmouth in Devonshire in England. Fellow Royalists the late Norman Gunawardena, and Humphrey Wijesinghe were among the cadets who were selected for Dartmouth together with Alan. On returning to Ceylon after his naval training at Dartmouth, he served the Royal Ceylon Navy and its successor Sri Lanka Navy for several years until retirement. On retirement from the Navy he served for a short period as an Executive in a Mercantile firm in Colombo, before migrating with his family to Australia.

The stint at Dartmouth would carry many precious memories for him, as that was where he met Maureen the love of his life. On migrating to Australia in the 1970s Alan joined the Royal Australian Navy which he served with distinction as Lieut Commander. On my migrating to Australia in 1984 I met Alan and Maureen at a Sunday luncheon hosted by the late Brendon Goonratne. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Alan and Maureen remained very close friends of ours.

Over the years we used to meet every three months at lunch at the Rosehill Bowling Club organized for old Royalist Seniors through the initiative of Chandra Senaratne. Other social engagements over the years have strengthened our friendship, and it is with deep distress that I heard of his terminal illness about two months ago. I rang him immediately and he was stoic as ever, the brave naval officer that he was. He said in no uncertain terms that he was not seeking to extend his life on this earth, and that he would wait in his home until the final call.

Alan’s departure marks another severance with the old Ceylon we knew, and its traditions and honorable ways. The Last Post will be played at his funeral at the Baptist Church, Epping on Friday December 2 at 3pm. He is survived by his dear wife Maureen, sons Andrew and Richard,, daughter in law Caroline, and grandson Ryan.

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on “

Farewell dear Alan.

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Opinion

Controversy Over Female Teachers’ Dress To School

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Our country and its people always get involved with unnecessary things which is of no interest to the majority of people. The latest debate in this never -a -dull -moment country (as always for the wrong reason) is the dress the female teachers are expected to wear to school. This is something that should be decided by the Ministry of Education in respect of the teachers of government schools.

I recollect when we were students the majority of female teachers wore saree to school. Then there were several teachers who wore frocks. These were the Burgher ladies. And there was no problem at all. I am not indicating this to show support that the teachers should be left to decide on their dress.

Now the strange thing about this controversy is that Buddhist monks have got involved in the debate and they are trying to determine the dress that teachers should wear. They do not seem to realize that the teachers must pay for the sarees. And they need to possess several sarees as they cannot wear the same saree over and over again. Given the monks get their robes free from the dayakayas, they should never get involved in matters of this nature, even though the female nurses may be happy to have one as the president of their union!

This controversy, if settled in favour of the teachers being given the option to decide on the dress and if they wear various types of dresses, the students too might get a bright idea to wear anything they want rather than the uniform that they have to wear at present.

It might be a good thing if the Ministry of Education could decide on a uniform for female teachers in Government schools. Some private hospitals, private firms and Sri Lankan Airlines have uniforms of their own and one could identify them easily. If there is such a uniform in saree and blouse for teachers in government schools, everybody outside too would be able to identify them as teachers and give the respect due to them.

However, this is not the time to worry about dress for teachers when there are children who do not get a proper education and suffer from malnutrition. It seems our rulers always get their priorities wrong, and this always affects the country and the people adversely. First, the teachers must do their job properly so that the schoolchildren do not have to attend tuition classes. We hear that sometimes only one teacher is available, and as a result the children keep away from attending school.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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