|Wednesday, 28 May 2003|
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Sri Lanka like almost all other countries is subject to natural disasters from time to time. In the very recent past the people in some parts of Matara and the Hambantota districts were the victims of a severe drought that forced them to stretch their feeble hands to people in the rest of the country for help to tide over their difficult period which was absolutely beyond their control.
The response to this appeal was overwhelming. People of all the communities and all the classes lavishly contributed what ever they could with the purest intention of helping their countrymen in need.
Most people who donate essential items to those affected in natural disasters and willing to donate more are in doubt as to whether their contributions are reaching the hands of those in need equitably.
Are the suffering people in remote non-motorable villages get their fair share of donated items is the big question. People know that during the recent drought in Hambantota quite a substantial portion of donations was hijacked by organised gangs and was filtering into boutiques. It is a pity that the authorities have failed to devise an efficient mechanism to distribute essential items equitably and adequately to people who are victims of natural disasters visiting us from time to time. Recent experience in Hambantota would have been gainfully utilised to do so.
For some people, especially the politicians the natural disasters are golden opportunities to bloat up their images.
They pose before the TV and press cameras as heroes distributing the items donated by the people or purchased with the public funds. There had been instances where the distribution of items to the hungry people were delayed until the arrival of TV crews.
The Government should set up a common fund to mobilise the generous contributions of the people and organisations. Such a fund enables the Government to utilise the available resources efficiently based on the needs of the victims. The ministers should not be permitted to set up their own funds, as the bulk of the funds collected by the ministers are spent in the districts they represent without taking the total picture into consideration. This is an unhealthy situation where the meagre resources are inefficiently utilised.
In this scenario we witness three types of donors. The leaders of leading business establishments and rich people hand over their cheques to senior ministers in front of cameras of media houses. Most of them who do so have hidden agendas and what is donated are in fact investments, which earn them handsome dividends in various forms.
The second category represent the Heads of government enterprises and corporations who shamelessly hand over to the ministers in front of media cameras, rather fat cheques drawn on the accounts of the organisations they manage. They do so and earn publicity as if they donate their own money.
The common people who deliver what ever they can afford to the collecting centres form the third category. They neither seek publicity nor have hidden agendas. It is a compelling need to help the people in distress that they satisfy by donating their belongings some times sacrificing their own needs. These are the people who should be saluted by the entire nation.
B. K. D. S. SAMARASINGHE,
With the closing down of Pramuka Bank by the Central Bank (CB), we the depositors of this country should think twice before putting our hard-earned savings in our favourite bank. This is so because of CB officials openly stating that depositing in our banks is a risky job. This may be true if one of Central Bank's primary tasks of regulating and supervising of the banks cannot be done by its officials who are being paid out of the taxpayers money to do so. It may be true if Central Bank's only operation was to just print money.
So, till Central Bank tries to figure out what its duty is I came up with some suggestions for our fellow depositors to follow when you put your savings in a bank.
1. Please see to it that the bank offers the lowest rate of interest for your money - else you will be branded as being too greedy.
2. Please see whether the Non Performing loans of the bank is not 80% - CB will take its timely' action to suspend operations of the bank only then.
3. Please have a chat with the MD or CEO and find out if they are best of buddies with CB bureaucrats - friends in high places keeps the liquidator away.
4. Please see whether a powerful politician has a major share capital in the bank - bank will have a sound performance no matter what.
5. Last of all, deposit your money in multiples of Rs. 50,000. - CB will proudly state that small deposits will be fully and quickly refunded on liquidation. When that is, is anybody's guess.
Though these steps may feel rib tickling, they may be the facts that might safeguard your money in our banks as no high officials or institutions in our country likes to take responsibility.
My heavy vehicle driving licence expired and needed renewal. Moreover, the plastic licence had given way to normal wear and tear and was split and cracked. When I surrendered my licence to the RMV Office at Werahera for renewal, I was issued a paper with the reference: B 977688 (CMT 148) dated 01.08.2002. I was told to wait for six months to get my licence!
Six months came and passed - no licence was issued to me. When I made inquiries at the RMV, Narahenpita an officer told me that I had to wait a few more months.
That was no surprise knowing how government departments work. But what really stumped me was this officer telling me that I am not authorised to drive a vehicle till I get my licence. It was deemed that I was not a licence holder until I get the licence. To add salt to the wound, he added that I could be prosecuted by the police on the basis of being a non-licence holder!
The RMV holds my licence pending issue of a new one, which strangely changes my status to a non-licence holder and another government department, viz.
The Police could prosecute me for non-possession of a licence - and, all the while I have been driving for the last so many years with a licence issued by the RMV!
The paper issued to me by the RMV which is material evidence that the RMV has in its possession my driving licence pending issue of a new one is not good enough for the Police!
One inefficient department takes my legal status away and another department could prosecute me - and all the while I remain as someone who had been issued a licence to drive by the RMV!
Suddenly, my driving skills, which the RMV has acknowledged by issue of a licence, goes away!
According to this strange paradox, if my bread and butter is earned working as a driver, I will have to stop work, forego my earnings and either starve to death along with my family or become thoroughly indebted to keep me and my family fed...and God knows how many more months I will have to wait!
To draw a simple analogy, if I had surrendered my lapsed/mutilated national identity card to the Department of Registration of Persons for issue of a new one, till such time it is issued to me, it is deemed that I am not a citizen of this country but a veritable kallathoni!
The paper issued to me by the Department of Registration of Persons acknowledging surrender of my identity card (awaiting a new one) is no good to the Police! But this is not so with the identity card.
The police would accept the paper and not hamper my movements as a free citizen- why is it so with the paper involving the driving licence?
I wonder what the Commissioner of Motor Traffic and the IGP have to say over this strange departmental procedure and insane inter-departmental logic!
DR. MASS R. USUF,
It was heartening to see the young, enthusiastic Pakistani fans having come a long way from their homeland, much to the delight of the Tourist Board and local hoteliers, cheering the Pakistani cricketers vociferously in the penultimate ODI against New Zealand in Dambulla recently. They were overjoyed when Pakistan won and deprived Sri Lanka entering the finals on Friday. Where were all the Sri Lankan fans?
They, with all due deference to our Pakistani friends, should have been in the stadium cheering New Zealand to win since that was the only chance for the local team to come through.
I have experienced two devastating floods during my life span. In 1947, as a teen-age school boy, I saw how marooned people were rescued and removed to safe places and provided essential foods. I lived in our ancestral home with my parents. It was a typical village, situated on the southern bank of Kelani Ganga, two miles west of Hanwella town.
All the villagers voluntarily and actively participated in the process forgetting the personal enmities and grudges among themselves. Except for the Village Headman, there was no other government official or outside sympathisers for providing any form of relief or assistance. When the flood waters subsided, the villagers on their own strengths and abilities re-built their houses. Co-operation among the villagers were optimum.
In December 1957, as a young public servant attached to Polonnaruwa Kachcheri, I witnessed the suffering under-went by the poor villagers who were mainly colonists. The social order was different from that of a village. Mutual help among the members in the community was minimal. People looked for government assistance for every thing. The Government Agent, mobilising help of the public servants handled the situation.
Subsequently, volunteers and social organizations provided assistance in the form of foodstuff and building material such as cadjan.
We as public servants, derived immense contentment in the process of participation on the duties connected with providing relief to victims under the able guidance of an eminent and youthful Civil Servant, W. T. Jayasinghe, who was the then Government Agent.
The popular politician in the District was C. P. de Silva, who was the Member of Parliament for Polonnaruwa and was also the Minister of Lands and Land Development. With his excellent guidance and assistance, rehabilitation and reconstruction work was completed within a short period and the entire district was ready for commencing cultivation activities during the following season.
The above two events explain the attitudes and reactions of the people in different types of organizations. If members of a particular type of organization are left without tampering by outside forces, they will find participatory solutions to their problems.
Heavy rains and subsequent floods is not completely new for the residents in Sabaragamuwa, Southern and Western provinces. Out of a total land area of 25332 square miles in the country, 4021 square miles cover the affected areas as follows:
Ratnapura District .. 1251 sq. miles
Reportedly, Ratnapura District experienced 300 millimetres of rainfall on the 17th of May. If the rainfall had uniformly spread throughout the district, approximately 800,000 acre feet of water could have reached the ground. This volume of water together with a similar volume of water in other districts has to reach the sea through the streams and rivers in Kalutara district and in the Southern belt.
A major portion of water in Ratnapura district has to find its way to the sea mainly through Kalu Ganga. The danger of floods on the banks of Kalu Ganga could have been seen well in advance. The Government authorities in these areas could have expected the situation and taken necessary steps to prevent the residents becoming mass scale victims.
The small number of deaths in Kalutara district is an indication that there had been awareness to face the situation. But the situation does not seem to be the same in other districts. The large number of reported deaths is a clear indication to this fact.
The Government, at least now should take appropriate action to circumvent similar situations in the future. A sustainable land utilisation policy is an immediate need. Those specialized in Geology should be consulted on the likely earth-slips at different places.
Such areas should not be used for human settlements. The members of voluntary organizations such as Rural Development Societies, Sanasa, Dayaka Sabhas in Temples, Farmers' Organizations, Sports Societies etc. should be provided training facilities for skills development in facing disasters. The skills of this nature remain in rural areas and become an absolute benefit.
D. A. Rupasinghe,
Produced by Lake House