|Thursday, 13 February 2003|
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Reuters reported on the 5th of February that International donors have said that economic aid to Sri Lanka could double in the next few years to support a delicate peace process to end two decades of conflict that had devastated the South Asian nation.
A couple of years ago a report of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) highlighted a fact some of us in the field of Development Assistance already knew. It was the piteously low rate of utilization of international donor funds in Sri Lanka. Much of the foreign assistance we receive, we do not utilize in time. Extension of projects funded by international development partners is a common phenomenon especially when the receiving party is the Government.
The utilization of funds by the non-governmental sector is better. Once the limit to which donors can stretch projects is reached, the receiving party (government) is required to return the money back to the donor. Donors are not interested in giving money that gets returned after some years.
We should remember that development assistance is also a kind of business. The managers of the donor agencies have to show results. The desirable results are products and services, not returned checks. Fast, timely implemented projects encourage donors. The project cycles become shorter resulting in more money coming into the country for a given period.
One of the main reasons why some projects funded by donor agencies fail or their money gets returned is the project approach of activity design. Often additional responsibilities are layed on existing government staff to take on, which is planned under the project and is called 'counterpart government contribution'. There are often no financial or other incentives to staff to carry out these project activities.
The circular on this matter issues by the Department of Public Administration that details the rupee rates that can be paid to government officers through international donor funding is quite outdated. Project work is seen as additional work that is beyond the terms of reference of these government officers. Some projects are donor driven and are enforced on the government by project officers who could otherwise loose their jobs.
There are other projects, which donors agree to fund because of the goodwill a government or a politician has with a certain donor.
There are times when projects are designed based on how much funds are available rather than the need for such activity. Such top-down approaches usually do not work.
The reason why I am writing to bring some of these factors to the limelight is the above Reuters report and possibility of Sri Lanka receiving large sums of donor money for reconstruction. The compromises both parties, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government are making to keep the peace effort afloat would encourage any agency for international development assistance.
However we should bear in mind the threats to donor fund utilization, which have been pointed out, should be dealt at the design stage of reconstruction and development programmes.
Trying to remedy in the implementation stage would be too late. Whenever possible these development initiatives should take a programme (as apposed to project) approach and should have a long-term focus. Non-governmental organizations that have a track record of quality work and transparency should be maximally utilized. The task managers to handle large re-construction programmes should be persons who have experience in handling large budgets.
Special procedural measures should be included in the programme or project documents that by-pass routine government bureaucratic procedures. The public administration circular referred to earlier should be updated so that realistic rates are paid for additional work done by government officers. Fields, which this circular does not cover, should be covered in the new updated circular.
The Finance Ministry should have a high-powered official who should be responsible to efficient and timely implementation of donor-assisted programmes. This officer should have powers to hold indolent project implementers accountable.
Dr. Hemamal Jayawardena
Unprecedented fuss, ridicule, indirect criticism, along with a great deal of publicity, has been levelled against the authorities, in particular against the Presidential Secretariat, the Service Commanders and IGP, regarding the fact that the services of a woman PC had been utilised to represent the President at the Independence Day Armed Services Parade dress rehearsal on 3rd February held at the Independence Square and the fact that the woman PC had performed and gone through the actions that the President would perform at the Parade proper on 4th February. Also held to ridicule was the fact that the Service Commanders and the IGP "saluted" the woman PC.
The fuss and publicity over this incident may be due to ignorance about what happens at an Armed Services Parade dress rehearsal or for that matter at any rehearsal. Surely people know or should know that at a dress rehearsal all actions to be performed and done at the particular event are gone through exactly as for the event proper. That is the means of ensuring all concerned, participants and administrators, know exactly what actions take place at a particular time, the detailed timings, the sequence of actions and events, etc.
The representative of the President can be the Secretary to the President or any other personality. He or she is only a representative for that particular purpose for that occasion only. Or was the fuss and the ha ho because it happened to be a woman PC?
The Service Commanders and all the participants at the parade are aware that all actions are rehearsals for the event proper. This has happened at all dress rehearsals, in the past years, and there has been no adverse publicity, no ridicule! Having been a participant many times at this same parade, in different ranks, and also having functioned as a parade staff officer in different ranks over several years I know this for a fact. Of course, this is the first time a woman PC represented the President, and she happened to be from the PSD and she was standing in for Her Excellency The President.
Considering the above facts may be there was sufficient cause to pour ridicule, make a fuss and create a bru ha, ha!!
Major General Gratiaen Silva
Sri Lankans are known to be great fighters when they are at their best, they could cut the opposition to pieces.
Not only on South African pitches, Sri Lanka can be competitive and destructive on any pitch if only they have a little bit of luck and the confidence that has eluded them, they could easily lift the World Cup once again.
In the recent past it has been observed that the selectors have blundered in most crucial times. For instance, dropping of Nuwan Zoysa after the last English tour would have demoralized him.
Did Vass justify his selection? Here we have a young man in his early twenties who has played a vital role as an opening strike bowler for Sri Lanka and who has been getting the early crucial breakthrough, with his menacing bouncer, which he bowls with good effect, was considered to be a deadwood. Having taken a hat trick in a test match overseas is no easy means.
Nuwan was an allrounder who batted at No. 4 for his school, Isipatana. He was a hard hitting batsman, who hit some blistering half centuries.
Nuwan should have been allowed to continue and I am sure, he would have been at his peak best by now. When he was not considered to tour South Africa, it was a blow to his morale and worse he was not considered for the World Cup, it was a devastating blow for him and was not seen at his best during domestic tournaments.
Sanath having called for his selection was justified for the Australian tour. However, he was found unfit due to the negligence of the selectors.
Sri Lanka Selectors should have some strategy when picking the best.
They should concentrate on long-term goals rather than concentrate on 'chewing gum' strategies. They should build a team packed with allrounders. We have fighting allrounders, such as Kumar Dharmasena, Upul Chandana, Tilan Samaraweera etc., etc., who could form a formidable unit for Sri Lanka. They have proved their ability with their performance as seen in the recent past.
To meet with bouncy pitches, we should have the opposite. Have these allrounders who bowl at slow pace and this is the strategy that Sri Lanka should adopt for the future, since the players who are used to bouncy pitches will not be able to cope up to slow bowlers. In my view, Dilhara should have been dropped and only considered for tests. Prabath Nissanka did not convince nor impress his selection.
Vass and Zoysa would have been more than sufficient to form an opening combination as seamers. In the absence of Zoysa, I would consider Chamila Gamage as the 3rd seamer.
The batting no. 3 slot - I fancy Sangakkara, who has potential and looks dynamic in his approach. If you see the past performance of Hashan Tillekeratne, he has been very successful batting low down at no, 7 and he has been an asset to the Sri Lankan team.
A topic that comes up for discussion this time of the year is the number of holidays allowed to the public and mercantile sector workers.
We must not forget that this is a country where our ancestors enjoyed six months of festivity feasting on successful agricultural pursuits. Those from families based in the metropolis for generations find it difficult to come to terms with the need for long vacations during the Sinhala/Tamil New Year period. They little realise the cultural base that has bonded the majority of this country with roots in the far off villages and rural townships. These workers need to renew those ties at least once a year. Let us look at the approved holidays are lined up in the year 2003.
Of 12 Poya holidays 4 fall on Saturdays and Sundays. Of 8 Mercantile and Public holidays 1 is on a Sunday.
Public servants are entitled to 5 extra holidays according to their religion. Of these 5 holidays too 1 fall on a Saturday.
Therefore the effective number of holidays is 15.
But the problem and headache for the Mercantile bosses are the lieu leave for holidays falling on Saturdays and Sundays and the 42 days Casual, Medical and Vacation leave.
Granting of lieu leave by the employer as well as expecting it by the worker is not based on a proper principle. Rightly so there are no additional holidays granted as lieu leave.
The other problem is the leave entitlements called Casual, Medical and Annual (vacation) leave. In all 42 days. Most workers are bent on taking the full entitlement of 42 days as a rule. Such leave indiscriminately utilised disrupts the working of any office, factory or government office. to overcome this problem and increase productivity some firms encash the unutilised leave up to the full quota of 42 days with the consent of the Commissioner of Labour. This is a very effective way of enticing regular attendance and productivity.
The encashment is at the normal day's pay. But better results could be obtained by making it really worthwhile and attractive to the worker by paying the normal overtime rate of 1 1/2 times.
The employers should have no regrets of incurring this expenditure as they are bound to save on overtime pay and gain on increased productivity too during the working week. It is the practice of many white collar workers to absent from work on Casual or Medical leave or else neglect the work on weekdays and work during weekends on overtime basis. If attractive inducement payments are made for leave foregone such workers will work during the weekday and attend to their personal needs during the weekends and holidays.
Therefore rather than complain that holidays are excessive all Mercantile firms should follow suit and adopt encashing unutilised leave with a cash payment.
It is hoped that even the Government Servants are brought into such a scheme.
Enough has been written, for many years, of the dangers of drinking Cola products. Health professionals, responsible investigative journalists and others have written convincing articles on this threat to health. Most parents, even without access to this information, know that they are addictive, susceptible children suffer nervous complaints and small ones become hyper-active and uncontrollable.
With all these warnings about Cola beverages and also consumption of most synthetic carbonated highly sugared drinks, it is time for serious action.
Threats to the long-term health of people cannot be ignored for the sake of providing multi-million profits to multinational big-business, and lucrative revenue to advertising firms.
Many years ago I discovered that remote village kades no longer sold natural products like nelli and belli juice. Thambili sellers are seldom seen, coconuts are prohibitively expensive.
Big business corporations have driven local producers, small and large, to the wall. Milk producers languish.
Most sectors of local manufacture suffer and consumers pay high prices for imported, highly chemical-laced goods.
Local natural food industries must be protected and encouraged. Natural food is essential if we are to survive and produce children with full mental and physical faculties.
Let's get back to nature and stop the rot from destroying our future.
In Sri Lanka, Internet penetration is very low. The prime reason for this is the high usage cost and the slow speeds of the Internet.
Internet usage has two cost components. One, is the phone charge, billed at the local call rate and the other, the Internet usage, billed on the time period.
The maximum bandwidth now available on analogy connections is 56KB, which is appallingly slow compared to bandwidths available in most other countries.
Today, even school children are encouraged to use the Internet more and more. Take for example, the availability of past papers of GEC examinations.
But, the big question is, who can afford these services.
Unfortunately, not even upper middle-income families are able to make this service available to their children at the current high rates. Even the very few who can barely afford this service now stay up till 10.00 p.m. for the off peak tariff.
Is it right for the nation to encourage school children to stay up till midnight to use the Internet? Further, one has to spend hours and hours to get any useful information at the very slow speeds of the analogue service now available.
As a solution to these problems, the Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) introduced a new scheme on a pilot scale at the Havelock Town Exchange. It is an Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL). It will provide 500KB bandwidth 24 hours of the day, for a flat monthly charge of Rs. 2,000. It has no other charges for the phone bill or the Internet usage, even if one is connected 24 hours a day for 30 days continuously. This will certainly make Internet affordable to many youth in the country and propel them fast towards global citizenship.
While the SLT is ready now to extend this service to the rest of the country, the regulatory watchdog, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) is delaying its approval.
This was recently mentioned by an SLT Engineer addressing a large gathering at a public lecture held at the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka.
Some cynics in the very knowledgeable audience on that day said that the TRC is only helping the other Internet Service Providers (ISP) to continue their high Internet fees by blocking this very affordable facility offered by the SLT.
Your readers might be interested in this biographical note on the two retired Aussie umpires who are reportedly flogging the dead horse of Murali's arm action.
In Lahore, during the ceremonies following the defeat of Australia in the World Cup final of 1996, it was Col Egar (aided and abetted by Aussie captain Mark Taylor) who led the Aussies in a walk-out when the Sri Lankan national anthem was being played. Egar later explained: They played the Pakistan anthem, and then the Australian anthem. They then started playing a 'third tune' and I said 'That's it boys' and we left.
Ross Emerson was the umpire involved in the famous incident when Arjuna staged a walkout, an incident which led to Emerson not being asigned any more umpiring duties. At the time of this incident it was reported that Emerson was on compulsory leave from his job as his employers found him undergoing 'mental stress'.
There was another umpire Steve Randell who gave some outrageous decisions against Sri Lanka.He is now languishing in jail, convicted of interfering with young girls when he was a teacher.
We need not be greatly concerned about Egar and Emerson, clearly the lunatic fringe of The Aussie umpires.
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