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‘X-Press Pearl’ and double whammy



by I. P. C. MENDIS

The disastrous end of the vessel X-press Pearl is now a fait accompli. The environmental damage to Sri Lanka is plain to see. The consequential damage elsewhere (real and hypothetical) to marine resources, coral reef, air, eco-system employment, life and property, etc., is in-estimable and is expected to adversely affect generations to come, it is reported.

There is no dearth of opinions increasing by the day. Self-appointed experts, gossip mongers, political opportunists, soothsayers , and all sorts of Know-Alls have taken centre stage.

Freedom of expression, right to information, media freedom, vociferous opinions, half-baked solutIons are now a “free-for -all” in the name of the much “prostituted ‘ democracy, which is much cherished. Such freedoms cannot be of the kind enjoyed by the wild ass. In the normal course of events, such freedom can be in full play. This disaster, of course, is a very special case, where legal proceedings as well as insurance companies get fully involved, finally. In that particular situation, talking out of turn can damage the entire process, prejudicing the claim for damages / compensation. Perhaps, unknowingly or innocently, in the process of loose talk and open discussion, ammunition can be provided to the respondents. There lies the real danger. In a way it can be construed as a matter of national security and in such name, it would be perfectly logical and legitimate to enforce a blanket embargo on post mortems.

Examples – It is furthest from my intention to meddle with a wound already oozing, yet I feel the respondents and their lawyers are as smart or sometimes even smarter than those of the government, and by mentioning certain references I would not be providing ammunition myself. Hence, take for instance, the opinion that we had no expertise in dealing with the calamity and no equipment either, and that we should have invited assistance from India earlier.

Also, in the circumstances of the dangerous cargo (nitric acid), water should not have been used to douse the fire. Additionally, the inclement weather followed by furious storms made the operation virtually impossible, prompting possible arguments relating to “force majeure”, which may afford an escape route for undervaluation. The Captain is reported to have declared he had no knowledge of the leak. In such event, how could our own fire-fighters assume it and desist from using water to douse the fire? This proves how damaging it is to express opinions without verifying facts. To some of our worthies, making political capital is a pastime, Covid included.

Pundits – All these ‘pundits’, who are generally wise after the event, are not helping the cause of Sri Lanka, other than providing ammunition to the respondents and doing enough damage to the cause.

Conspiracy – There are several questions that remain unanswered. On the face of the calamity itself it appears as if the disaster had occurred in the normal course of events. Although it may sound perhaps preposterous or even stupid, it would still be puerile to treat this disaster as one of those unfortunate events, and discount completely any conspiracy to upset and put into disarray the development process and the economy, which policies are not in line with the interests of certain world alignments, also upsetting the political sphere which is not to their liking or their vested interests.

Things can be made to happen unknown to anybody, secretly. It was indeed, so near and yet so close to the Port City project and the economic hub of the country. Whether or how the disaster will affect that project is yet unknown. Adversaries will leave no stone unturned to disrupt – make no mistake! The Port City is on sand filled sea area, and seepage of contaminated water can adversely affect the constructions and other sensitive areas. Over to you, the recently appointed dispensation.

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Ampitiya That I Knew



Ampitiya is a village just two miles from Kandy. The road to Talatuoya, Marassana, Galaha and turning left from Talatuoya to Tennekumbura and Hanguranketha and beyond goes through Ampitiya.My family moved there in 1949 when our paternal grandfather bequeathed the ancestral home to our father to be effective after our grandfather’s demise. Until then the eldest sister of our father’s family with her family and the two bachelor brothers lived in the house. After living in various places our father was transferred to on duty, we had come to our final abode there.

The house was situated about 100 yards before the second mile post. There were paddy fields both in front of the house and behind it with a mountain further away. These were salubrious surroundings to live in. There was no hustle and bustle as in a town and the only noise would have been the occasional tooting of horns and the call of vendors selling various household needs.

The Ampitiya village extended from near the entrance to the Seminary and the school situated a short climb away along Rajapihilla Mawatha (now Deveni Rajasinghe Mawatha) on the road from Kandy ending at the gate to the Seminary, and running up to the Diurum Bodiya temple.

Ampitiya was well known thanks to the Seminary of our Lady of Lanka located there. Newly ordained Catholic priests took theology classes here. The Seminary with its majestic building commanded a fine view of the Dumbara valley. The student priests lived in the hostel called Montefano St. Sylvester’s Monastery situated just above the sloping rice fields coming down to the Kandy-Talatuoya Road. There was a volleyball court within the Montefano premises and we used to see the young priests enjoying themselves playing a game in the evenings as the court was quite visible from our house.

We, as schoolboys of the neighbourhood, used to get together during many weekends and play cricket on the roadway to the Montefano which was just past the second milepost as there was no vehicular traffic then on that road.

Ampitiya had a school started by the Catholic Church and known as Berrewaerts College which later became the Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya. At the time our family became residents of Ampitiya this was the only school. Later the Catholic Church established a girls’ school named Carmel Hill Convent. This school enabled most girls who had to go all the way to Kandy or Talatuoya by bus to walk to school.

People who follow sports, especially athletics, would have heard the names of Linus Dias, Sellappuliyage Lucien Benedict Rosa (best known in Sri Lanka as SLB Rosa) and Ranatunga Karunananda, all Ampitiya products who participated in the Olympics as long distance runners competing in the 10,000 metres event. Linus Dias captained the Sri Lankan contingent in the Rome Olympics in 1960.Though they were not able to emulate Duncan White they took part.

Karunananda became a hero in Sri Lanka as well as in Japan when at the Tokyo Olympics of October 1964 he completed the 10,000 metre course running the last four laps all alone. The crowd cheered him all the way to the finish appreciating his courage in not abandoning the already completed race. Later he said he was living up to the Olympic motto which said the main thing is to take part and not to win.

Rosa captained the Sri Lankan team in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He switched to long distance running while still a student thanks to the Principal of Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya, Mr. Tissa Weerasinghe (a hall mate of mine one year senior to me at Peradeniya) who had noted his stamina and asked him to switch to long distance events. I must mention that Tissa was responsible for bringing this school to a high standard from where it was when he took over.

Coincidentally, during our Ampitiya days, all the houses from Uduwela junction for about half a mile towards Talatuoya were occupied by our relatives! They included the Warakaulles, Koswattes, Pussegodas, Sangakkaras, Godamunnes, Thalgodapitiyas and Wijekoons. Now most of these houses are occupied by others.

Ampitiya area had two Buddhist temples. One was the Dalukgolla Rajamaha Viharaya on the Ratemulla Road and the other, Ampitiya Diurum Bodiya, near the third mile post. From the latter temple a famous Buddhist monk, Ven. Ampitye Rahula Thero later joined the Vajirarama temple in Colombo and was highly recognized by Buddhists just like Ven. Narada and Ven.Piyadassi Theros.

The Uduwela temple had a water spout emerging out of a granite rock where the temple priests and neighbours used to bathe and wash their clothes. This spout never ran dry.

At present the landscape of Ampitiya has changed hugely. Most of the sloping paddy fields have been filled and dwelling houses have come up. The majestic view, except for faraway mountains, is no longer present. A five-star hotel has been built just beyond the second mile post and the area has lost its previous tranquility. A person of my vintage who once lived there visiting Ampitiya now wouldn’t be able to recognize the place given the changes.



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Expert advice on tax regime



The Government’s new tax regime has led to protests not only by high income earning professionals but also by Trade Unions.In my view the problem is not with the rate of taxation which is 6% – 36%, but with the tax exemption threshold. Due to hyper-inflation and the high cost of electricity, water, essential food items etc, the Exemption Threshold of 1.2 million per year is far too low.

If the Exemption Threshold is increased to at least 1.8 million per year, the Trade Unions are likely to accept this. It will also lessen the burden of taxation on high income professionals. And it should not impact on the IMF agreement.

The time has now come for a compromise between the Government and the protesters.

(The writer is a retired Commissioner General of Inland Revenue)

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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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