|Friday, 28 January 2005|
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No avoiding transparency
At a time when transparency and accountability are figuring prominently in pubic discussion over the utilization and distribution of foreign funding in the aftermath of the tsunami tragedy, we have the reassuring words of the head of the Task Force for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Mano Tittawella, that the use of such financial resources by the State would "withstand the highest scrutiny of international standards."
We hope this pronouncement would have the desired effect of defusing the misapprehensions, reservations and rumours which are swirling around the current reconstruction and rehabilitation programme, most of them deliberate concoctions by interested groups whose final aim is to denigrate the Lankan State.
Unfortunately, foreign aid in particular, has proved a happy hunting ground for the politically and morally bankrupt as well as for rumour-mongering scribes.
For all these elements abundant aid and assistance is a "juicy story" which should not go unexploited. It provides ample ammunition for those seeking to damn governments and for those on the look out for a sensational "story" which would sell their media products.
However, for governments these are matters of paramount importance, particularly in times such as these. Making wild allegations is easy - substantiating them difficult.
It is as if these accusers do not have the faintest understanding of the procedures of accountability which governments are expected to adhere to, particularly in the spheres of aid procurement and disbursement.
Curiously, some of these rumour mongers have won public acceptability as men and women of sense and substance. Is this a way of being in the "news"?
However, the Government realising the magnitude of the task on its hands is taking no chances, It ensures that all the assistance pouring in is accounted for and responsibly handled.
Such aid wouldn't be subjected to tampering of any kind outside official procedures. It seems to be little known, for instance, that all public funds are controlled and scrutinized by Parliament.
Besides, assistance flowing into the Consolidated Fund come under Central Bank supervision and control and are also overseen by the General Treasury. These receipts are duly documented in the annual reports of these institutions which could be accessed by the public.
Besides pledging accountability we are glad to note that the Government is calling on varied expertise to tighten the procedures of accountability and transparency.
Particularly gladdening is the news that the Government is drawing on the expertise of our very own Sri Jayewardenepura University's Institute of Management for this purpose.
This is a refreshing departure from the practice of past governments to depend supinely on foreign assistance and expertise for these exercises.
Instead of genuflecting tamely before foreign institutions and paying their exorbitant fees, the Government has taken the initiative to use local expertise and this in itself is highly commendatory.
In the hit movie Spiderman and its sequel, Peter Parker does some amazing stunts with the webs that he weaves as he virtually flies over skyscrapers.
Our hero gets his superhuman powers when a genetically modified spider bites him at a laboratory. Nevertheless, he is constantly reminded that 'with great power comes great responsibility'.
That 'great power' could soon be within everybody's reach, though wannabe Spideys are forewarned not to attempt any of the tricks portrayed so convincingly by Tobey Maguire in reel life.
This is because an Israeli university has just succeeded in genetically engineering a form of spider's web almost identical to natural webs. It is created out of genes from the bodies of the spiders themselves.
Just don't think of stopping a runaway train with this material though, as Parker does in Spiderman-2. But the artificial webs may be able to save you from the bad guys, as they can be used to manufacture tougher bullet proof vests.
They can apparently also save lives in another way - the material is ideal for surgical thread. Fish may have cause for complaint, as scientists are angling in on the possibility of manufacturing fishing rods with this material. They are also thinking of spinning artificial cobwebs for industrial use.
Micro conductors and optical fibres are two more products which could benefit from the new discovery. New types of clothing too have been envisioned.
The applications could be limitless, as the new material is said to be six times stronger than nylon and even steel fibre of the same diameter - just one thousandth of a millimetre. More uses are likely to be discovered as scientists fine-tune the product in the next few years.
Scientists have been striving for decades to invent a material that could equal the properties of spiders' webs.
They have achieved that objective at last, but a humble garden spider has shown them the way and given them the base material to work on. Duplicating nature is not all that easy. Another example is the lowly bee that produces the finest honey. No artificial product can even come close to it.
Yet, the creation of artificial webs shows that Man should not stop trying to emulate nature. Scientists from three countries (Israel, Germany and England) worked on the web project, highlighting the fact that international cooperation is vital for the forward march of science and technology. It truly is a world wide web out there.
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