|Monday, 7 February 2005|
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A challenge to rebuild our island
Nature was no respecter of divisions, class, caste, creed, party, ethnic or even national.
The experience had reminded us of our failures in the past, and is an opportunity/challenge in the future to rebuild our beautiful island unitedly together.
In 1947, independence was won without shedding even a drop of blood. Over 30,000 perished within a few hours in a single fateful day, Boxing day, Sunday December 26. Another Hiroshima. Is not this sufficient atonement for past mistakes?
Goodwill, brought in by personal visits of many head of State, the Head of UN to Colombo and helicopter tour of the affected areas, was tremendous.
Immediate relief in the form of men, doctors, engineers, Army, Navy personnel, para medics, equipment, choppers, naval boats, building equipment, water purification plants, tents, medicine and outright cash donations by well over 50 nations, was enormous.
They were by Governments, NGOs, Civil Society and by ordinary citizens as well. In the first 24 hours ordinary citizens in UK had collected Sterling Pounds 15m and within 48 hours Sterling Pounds 35m.
There was competition between the Government and ordinary man in the street on the amount. When the Government lagged behind, they upped it to Sterling Pounds 60m within 5 days which kept on climbing by Sterling Pounds 200,000 every hour.
On January 5, Wednesday the Big Ben chimed at the mid-day in rare and exceptional gesture when the whole nation came to a standstill, as it observed three minutes silence in honour of the dead.
It was awakening of the social conscience of the world and a exceptional free media triumph. Our 'Imprisoned splendour' as somebody else put it.
Many a returnee at Gatwick and Heathrow, some came sobbing, some in position to talk giving glowing accounts of how locals who neglected their own to look after strangers. A lady holding up a corner of a 'Kabaya' and a man who was offered a shirt on the road side, wearing, it all the way to wintry England, were shown on TV.
'Temple threw doors open to homeless Catholics' (Cox News Service), "Pleased to see Buddhist clergy in relief work in mosques and churches," reported the 15-member US Congressional delegation.
First rescue operations even in N/E was by our own armed forces. Government has published the relief sent to N/E, Representatives of LTTE thanked the Government for relief sent.
The head of the UN World Food Programme, Country Directors of ADB, World Bank, representative of IMF, Japan Bank for International Co-operation and JICA and Leader of the Opposition did visit the N/E. They are willing to be included in a common programme with the Government.
"Before Akram left, he pulled out his wallet and gave me Rs. 200." Kirk K. Peterson a teacher from Utah, USA who was earlier spending a holiday in Unawatuna stranded on the cement slabs of the outer corridors of Karapitiya hospital on 26th evening.
"They gave us their slippers, they gave us their shirts, they were the most wonderful men in the world," said Jorge Deitrich, a German back-packer.
The ICC have hosted two international cricket matches to collect funds. A cricket enthusiast wants to build a cricket village in Galle.
Germany cities wants to adopt many a town in Sri Lanka. International community responded with a meeting in Jakarta, in Geneva followed up with a Donor Club meeting in Paris and meeting in Tokyo on the early warning system.
The President has set up three task forces one for rescue and rehabilitation, one for rebuilding the nation, logistics, law and order.
Emergency powers were available to deal with theft, looting, kidnapping with those trafficking in children.
Finance Ministry will coordinate with international donors, funding agencies, voluntary non-governmental organisations and act in consultation with the 3 task forces. Foreign Minister in Jakarta talked of a double recovery.
November 2004, the Finance Minister with his maiden budget laid the foundation for a well-thought out plan for development of the country. It was hailed by all, and even the opposition in Parliament, had hardly anything to criticise about.
This was to bridge the gap between rich and poor, (help the medium and small business as well) between developed areas and less developed areas, to encourage entrepreneurs from the South to do business in their own areas rather than rush to Colombo/Western Province.
The Finance Minister is keen to ensure that pledges made are honoured, unlike the earthquake experience in Iran, has already obtained promises of a suspension initially, and ultimate waiver of the foreign debt which stand around US $ 500 million.
China has already waived an amount of US $ 37 million. Preferential treatment for Sri Lanka exports like garments within the framework of generalised system of preferences is being considered. Duty free and quota free access for exports, to EU including Germany and USA are being studied.
Our external assets, the Achilles' heel of our economy, according to Colombo-based bankers and big business, has swelled.
The rupee has appreciated against all major international currencies silencing regulars on TV shows who made it their hobby horse.
The Minister of Finance had made a cash grant of Rs. 5,000 to each affected family, given Rs. 375 to a schoolchild to buy books and uniforms.
A collateral free loan up to Rs. 5 m could be obtained from the Bank of Ceylon and People's Bank to buy equipment, machinery, boat or a vehicle. Loans are interest free first year, thereafter only a concessionary rate of 6 per cent p.a. is charged.
The above imitative show that with a firm original grounding, in what was described as a 'mature bureaucracy' and a decade of experience in the Provincial Council and Parliament as MP and Minister, he will stand tall and stand up to the task.
President is indeed blessed with many a fortunate general in the PM, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Finance Minister to quote.
'Wars are won by lucky generals' - Napoleon
- C. MUTUTANTRI
Lawyers' behaviour in open Court
It was reported in the newspapers that when some lawyers marked their appearance on behalf of an accused at the Colombo Magistrate's Court, the other lawyers present in Court protested with jeers an catcalls, disrupting Court procedure.
Irrespective of the crime he is accused of, surely an accused is entitled to be represented by counsel. Although the learned Magistrate had mentioned this fact in Court, their boisterous protests had continued, resulting in the case being postponed for one hour.
This conduct of the protesting lawyers is most deplorable. Proper conduct is expected of one and all inside a Court of law.
When any person is hauled up for contempt of court for coughing or yawning when Court is in session, these lawyers had the audacity to act in this manner. What were they protesting at? To prevent a lawyer from engaging in his lawful profession!
Heinous crimes have been committed before. Whole families had been slaughtered and yet the accused were represented by counsel, unhindered. An accused is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty. The law should be applied equally to one and all.
"Is it the money you want" - they had shouted. Perhaps these protesting lawyers accept their briefs free of charge when they appear for other suspects!
- RANJITH G. PERERA - Panadura.
Tsunami and coastal building limits
The disaster wrought by the tsunami in Sri Lanka was beyond our experience in living memory and has played havoc with not only the coastal structures and lives, not also with the thinking capacity of our polititions and planners.
In the first place, we have to keep in mind that tsunamis are not frequent occurrences in Sri Lanka and planning for extremes is uneconomical and wasteful.
In the second place, Sri Lanka is a small island and imposing unnessarily wide no build zones would be effectively shrinking the land space available for development and the fast increasing population and adversely affecting all coastal occupations, employment and land owners.
What is called for is a reliable disaster warning system, a rapid evaquation system and inexpensive semi-permanent structures for the fisher folk in reasonable proximity to their source of livelihood, the sea. They will never settle elsewhere for long. It has been tried before in Dehiwala, Kalutara, etc. and failed.
We cannot plan for all possibilities but only for probabilities in the comparatively near future.
Sri Lanka may rise, sink or shift, nothing is impossible! It has happened elsewhere! Are we planning for these possibilities too?
- LINCOLN WIJEYESINGHE - Dehiwala.
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