Protecting the distressed | Daily News

Protecting the distressed

Law and Order Minister Ranjith Maddumabandara, it is reported, has issued instructions to the police to deal severely with looters who may take advantage of the prevailing situation brought about by the inclement weather where thousands have been displaced and taken refuge in make shift shelters in several parts of the country. He has noted while Sri Lankans are generally prepared to assist others in times of need there are also unscrupulous elements who target abandoned homes and wait for an opportunity to loot the valuable belongings of the victims. “Although Sri Lankans are known for their generosity and helpfulness, there are also a few who disgrace the rest by taking advantage of perilous situations”. He said he has instructed all police stations to entertain complaints about such thefts, round the clock.

The minister should be commended for taking cognizance of this aspect of the loss that will be suffered by the displaced flood victims which will be tantamount to the well worn Sinhala idiom gahen vetune minihata gona enna vagey, the man who fell from the tree being gored by the bull. As the minister noted, Sri Lankans, in general, are quick to respond to the distress calls of their brethren. This is notwithstanding the barriers of race and religion. This was amply on display during the sad episode of Black July where some Sinhalese even risked their own lives in giving protection to the fleeing Tamils. Even in the recent anti-Muslim flare up in Kandy many were the members of the majority community, and even the Sangha, who went out of their way to protect and grant solace to the victims. However, the shameful actions of a few, negated all the good work and cast a pall over all the Sinhalese. This was the case in the aftermath of the ’83 anti-Tamil riots, which blackened the image of the entire nation.

The vultures were active even during the Tsunami catastrophe with stories circulating how gold rings were yanked out of the fingers of the dead victims. This, while thousands went to the rescue of the stricken, even placing their own lives in peril, as in the case of July ’83.

Now that the minister has issued the necessary orders to the police he should go a step further and consider affording protection to the abandoned homes, wherever possible. This is because in the chaotic situation in the flood affected areas and the distressed states of mind of the victims, concerns about the fate of their possessions and belongings will be furthest from the minds of these hapless people. Besides, they will not be in a position to know if their homes were looted or not, being confined to temporary shelters.

True, the police are having their hands full in the disaster hit areas focusing their attention on the distressed .In such a situation they may not be able to summon the required manpower to provide security to the homes of the victims. They can overcome this by organising groups of vigilantes from the affected areas itself who may know all the suspicious characters.

The victims should not be allowed to suffer further distress, or a double blow, by failure to take adequate precautions to protect their belongings. Steps should also be taken to facilitate their speedy return to their homes once the flood waters subside. Here too the police could be of help.

Be that as it may, the authorities should prepare themselves adequately to deal with the aftermath of the latest flood disaster. Floods naturally bring in its wake diseases. There is already a red alert for dengue, with many districts badly affected. Adequate medical personnel should be deployed in the affected areas to prevent a spread of the epidemic. Sufficient medical stocks too should be dispatched without delay. All possible assistance should be obtained from whatever quarter to ensure the well being of the victims.

In this respect the JVP should be commended for cancelling a protest planned for last Monday in order to help out the flood victims. Hopefully the example of the rathu sahodharayas will be followed by some Trade Unions, planning strikes, at this hour of strife for thousands of their countrymen.

Waiting for Godot

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera has challenged former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for a debate on the latter's statements pertaining to the country's debt burden, during a media conference on the occasion of his completing one year as FM, on Tuesday. Disputing the figures and arguments presented by MR in this regard, Samaraweera dared the former President to face him directly in a public debate instead of issuing statements prepared by others to the media.

This is not the first occasion that Rajapaksa is being challenged for a public debate. During the Presidential Election campaign in 2005 a similar challenge was made by his opponent Ranil Wickremesinghe, though not on the country's debt burden, but in the tradition of Presidential candidates in the more mature democracies.

Needless to say, Mahinda Rajapaksa chickened out.

Hence, Minister Samaraweera should not be holding his breath waiting for Rajapaksa to enter the ring.

It will be like waiting for Godot.


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