|Saturday, 24 January 2004|
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Fighting the sleaze blight
The news of a fraud to the tune of Rs. 285 million, allegedly committed in the supply of medical equipment to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Children's Hospital, Kandy, while meriting a detailed investigation, should serve as a reminder of the widespread and pervasive nature of corruption. From what could be learnt from our front page lead story yesterday, the tender for the supply of the relevant material was awarded to an unrecommended supplier, at the behest of "highly influential officials".
While it is no longer news that corruption has spread far and wide in this country, what proves disquieting and distressing is the proportions to which it has risen particularly among the "influential". Although it is suspected that commissions and kickbacks are making sections of the political elite in particular, stinkingly rich, the apparent inability to bring these persons to justice, aggravates the sense of helplessness among the righteous and civic-conscious sections of the public.
However, the common people would themselves testify to the ubiquitous character of graft and sleaze. In some sections of the public sector, for instance, corruption could be encountered at almost all levels, rendering the provision and accessibility to services a monumental challenge. Nor are sections of the private sector free of this debilitating blight which kills a society slowly and steadily. The proof of this is the wide spread of the "commission" mania for meeting business undertakings and for the conclusion of transactions of various kinds. The under-the-table deal is the dark underbelly of the current "growth" splurge.
As to whether this spreading cancer could be arrested would depend on how effectively the official anti-corruption machinery operates. The record, in this regard, so far, as is well-known, is highly discouraging. We are yet to see, for instance, high profile powerful politicians being hauled up before the Bribery and Corruption Commission, which is in any case hamstrung with a number operational limitations.
We are given to understand that there are accumulating bribery allegations against some tap-notch politicians including Ministers but are yet to be informed of any progress being made in investigations of this kind. In fact, the Commission itself is maintaining a less than high-profile presence in the public life of Sri Lanka. Higher visibility and, of course, effectiveness would help make a dent in the corruption millstone which is weighing Sri Lanka down.
We believe that there should be greater political commitment to fight the spreading sleaze ulcer. More authority, power and resources for the official corruption-fighting machinery could relieve us somewhat of this overwhelming blight.
What's in a name ?
Two recent articles in the Daily News posed the question - Cotta Para, Colpetty and Bombay or Mumbai ?. It is not difficult to envision how these foreign placenames came into being. The British ruled Sri Lanka and India for hundreds of years and gave new names to localities, based loosely on local names.
Thus Kollupitiya became Colpetty and Galla turned into Galle. Kolamba, of course, is known as Colombo worldwide. Some other placenames such as Kandy (Mahanuawara), Chilaw (Halawatha) and Batticaloa (Madakalapuwa) are not apparently based on local names, but are believed to be the colonial rulers' own interpretations of what they had seen or heard at these localities.
Should we only use the local names and abandon the British names completely ? Most countries prefer the latter. Thus Calcutta is now known as Kolkata and Rangoon became Yangon. Sometimes, even the country's name is changed. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Myanmar (Burma) are two examples.
The continual use of 'English' placenames is seen as a legacy of colonial rule and a form of mental servility to imperialism. Using local placenames gives us a sense of national identity while reaffirming the spirit of independence. On the other hand, some colonial placenames are so entrenched in the national psyche and in the international arena that it would practically be impossible to abandon them altogether. After all, our local languages have hundreds of words derived from Portuguese, Dutch and English and we use them without ever thinking of their origins.
'Thrikunamalaya' would not be any easier for a foreigner to pronounce and Jaffna sounds more simple than either 'Yapanaya' or 'Yalpanam'. It is time that our national leaders formulate a coherent policy on this contentious issue.
Should we push for the wider use of indigenous names locally and internationally ? Should we continue to use some names while giving up others ? Should this practice extend to the identity of local products - why not Sri Lanka Tea instead of Ceylon Tea ? These are among the myriad of questions such a policy will have to take into account. In the meantime, the media should stimulate a healthy debate on the merits and demerits of Dondra and Devundara.
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