|Saturday, 31 January 2004|
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The whole cake
Defence continues to be a bone of contention. Due to UNF disinformation assessments of current Mano - Malik consensus talks to end the crisis, raise false hopes of our seeing a resolution of the deadlock.
A closer look at developments reveal that we are still a long way off from a compromise, to the Defence imbroglio.
Both locally and internationally, the impression created by the Government is that it is willing to make a deal on Defence. That is, that they are approaching the negotiations in a spirit of compromise. Recent pronouncements by the Foreign Minister in India are a case in point.
This is far from the truth. The UNF is obdurately insisting at the talks that the Prime Minister hold the Defence portfolio. If the most recent statement by Government spokesman G. L. Peiris is anything to go by, no grounds could be said to exist for such optimism, much as we wish there would be a spirit of give-and-take on this thorny question.
For instance, while the spokesman emphasized that the Government was not interested in overall Defence powers, he goes on to say that the Government is keen on having the powers that it enjoyed prior to the take over of the ministry.
This amounts to taking a backward step. The question which arises in the impartial observer's mind is whether a claim is being made for all Defence powers previously held, in which case we are compelled to conclude that there is no spirit of compromise.
These posturings give rise to considerable anxiety. For, in terms of arriving at a solution, how will such ambiguous positions help? Wouldn't such vacillation lead to an undermining and a final break-down of cohabitation talks? Let's face it, the Government wants to have nothing, but the whole cake, though its leaders go around saying that it will be satisfied with much less.
We once again warn that a breakdown of cohabitation talks would be in no one's favour. While the President's constitutional right to handle the Defence portfolio cannot be questioned - and we have had clear and cogent Supreme Court rulings on this matter - the Government would do well to examine positively the compromise solutions offered by the President.
Two of these are the creation of a Minister Assisting slot, to which the Government could propose its nominee and the offer to re-create the Ministry of National Security, as held by Lalith Athulathmudali under the Presidencies of Jayewardene and Premadasa.
An insistence on full, former Defence powers could not only prolong, but aggravate the current crisis and lead to a breakdown of talks.
It is very clear now, that this is what the government really wants.
With the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka running a campaign that extols the virtues of the 'Incoming Free' facility for mobile phones, more consumers are rushing to get hold of these little gadgets.
Cellular services took to the airwaves in this country around 1990. The industry has recorded a remarkable growth over the last 14 years. Mobile coverage has finally reached the North-East and other remote places. Nearly one million subscribers carry mobiles in their pockets or handbags. Attractive packages from the four operators, coupled with inexpensive, feature-laden handsets, have spread cellular telephony to all social strata. It seems that everybody from the humble pavement fruit seller to the corporate bigwig is glued to the 'cell'.
The one factor that somewhat stifled this growth was the payment charged for incoming calls. Mobile subscribers have to pay for both outgoing and incoming calls according to the present tariff structure. Most subscribers believe that this practice is grossly unfair, because they do not actually seek any incoming calls - they just answer when the phone rings. Clearly, it is the caller who must be called on to pay. This is precisely the basis for the 'Calling Party Pays' (CPP) system, whereupon those who call mobile numbers will be asked to bear the entire cost.
Clearing this last hurdle will no doubt lead to an explosion in mobile sales. This has indeed been the case in many countries which introduced the CPP system. For the first time, using a mobile phone could be more economical than using a landline. Even now, a basic mobile phone connection costs thousands of rupees less than a home telephone installation. Moreover, mobile phones are ideal for localities which conventional telephone systems cannot reach due to infrastructure or cost reasons. The new proposals could help achieve a drastic rise in Sri Lanka's low telephone penetration rate.
In the meantime, the four cellular operators must continue their quest for technological excellence and strive to provide a better service to the public. They must be switched on to meet 3G and universal mobile telephony standards, which will provide a whole new world of opportunities for the industry.
Produced by Lake House