SUNDAY OBSERVER Sunday Observer - Magazine
Sunday, 1 February 2004  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Too many holidays the bane of economy

This refers to a letter written by M. T. A. P. Fernando of Rawatawatta, on 'Holiday Galore' (SO Dec. 14).

There is no other country in the whole world where the number of holidays in a year is so high as in Sri Lanka, where 253 1/2 days (69%) of working days are holidays, including leave entitlements and maternity leave, e.g., in the year 2004, the breakdown of holidays is:

50 Saturdays

50 Sundays

13 Poya days

10 Public, Bank and Mercantile holidays (excluding overlapping weekends)

Adding upto 123.

42 Casual, Annual and Medical leave

4 1/2 days short-leave (@ 3 hrs. per month)

. Total 169 1/2

84 days maternity leave (excluding holidays)

.. Total 253 1/2

. for males

.. for pregnant females.

The poya days were declared public holidays, purely as a political stunt, and it does not serve the purpose as every Buddhist is aware that the day is not set apart for religious observances. The public and bank employees are more benefited than the private sector employees, as their leave entitlements are not governed by the Shop & Office Employees' Act. They have to work on certain holidays, when the public sector enjoys a free day.

Too many holidays in Sri Lanka have become a bane on the country's economy, because people are paid for no work done. The loss of manpower is enormous. But, still the workers demand for more pay with no equal output of work to compensate for the increase. The trade unions, to win over the confidence of the members, agitate for more wages, regardless of work involved.

I would like to mention that Japan, immediately after the World War II (1939-1945), increased the working hours to 10 but remunerated only for eight hours, the excess being drawn to develop the country after the two atomic bomb explosions in 1945.

With all the disaster and devastation, the country has become one of the most developed countries in the world. How is that happened? Too many holidays is a colossal waste of money, with no return.

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe, Mattegoda.

Cheating PET-machines

There is no doubt that the introduction of People's Electronic Teller (PET) is a customer-oriented service introduced by one of the leading banking institutions - People's Bank. While appreciating the financial services done by the Bank concerned, the same PET machines frequently run out of order and cheat its customers at the very need of hour or want.

This makes the customers impatient and thinking of obtaining the services of other banking institutions spread out throughout the country.

During the last few days, I underwent unnecessary difficulties due to the disorder of the PET machine in the late evening hours of want. For instance, I had a 30 minutes delay on last Friday evening at six o'clock, in obtaining PET services of the Ampara branch PET machine.

This delay cost me of missing the 6 o'clock CTB bus scheduled to Colombo.

Therefore, I appeal to the People's Bank authorities that they should take care of PET disorders and malfunction to deliver the timely satisfactory service to its customers at least in future.

A. Janoordeen, Irakkamam.

GMOA, SLMC please explain

It is common knowledge and practice that whoever wishing to work in Sri Lanka in the medical profession needs to sit for a qualifying exam conducted by the Sri Lanka Medical Council. The persons may be medical graduates from prestigious universities around the world.

But if they are to work in Sri Lanka they are asked to sit for this qualifying exam. These Sri Lankan foreign medical graduates have done very well in these exams and are doing a great service back at home.

However, since of late there's a glut of foreign nationals, specially from India who have stormed into the private hospitals and treating our patients without having to sit for the qualifying exam. This has resulted in taking a big risk by exposing our sick nation after paying exorbitant consultation fees they demand. These doctors order so many tests in order to keep the institution a profit making concern. The unfortunate patients just got to grin and bear and pay for these expensive tests.

In view of these developments as a patient I would like to know the position of the GMOA and the SLMC on this topic.

Also I find a lot of Chinese hospitals mushrooming in all big cities-just like the Chinese restaurants. Who gives them the green light??

It will be rather interesting to get a reply through this same media the views of the GMOA and the Sri Lanka Medical Council.

Patient, Kandy.

Hidden Heroes Clarification - A reply

This has reference to the letter "Hidden Heroes - Clarification" in the Sunday Observer of 11th January 2004. Milton Aponso says he is not M. Aponso and also not from Mt. Lavinia. Not stopping at that he goes onto defend the self professed heroes a.k.a. Air Traffic Controllers.

This is quite an unnecessary exercise for anybody other than ATC to undertake in order to counter my views. Aponso's predicament here is understandable in view of the mix-up of names.

It is a truism to say that there are professions where qualifications, certificates, experience etc are required for appointment. But the point Aponso completely missed was that nobody becomes a hero (hidden or otherwise) just because he has a certificate from the Director of Civil Aviation or because his profession is listed in an ILO document etc. They are all irrelevant as far as heroism is concerned was my point. I also did not, in any way, imply that the ATC does not shoulder responsibility (when assigning flight levels) where human lives are involved. Yes, indeed they do. So do bus drivers and a lot of others.

On the other hand it is relevant to note here, that I have yet to come across even a single ATC (past or present) who had been successful in obtaining employment, as an ATC mind you, in an airport anywhere else in the world, however much he tried.

I know some have gone as school teachers etc. whereas, many who have been in the civil aviation field here, other than ATC, are or have been employed in their respective categories in foreign airports.

This fact may not appear in the ILO document Mr. Aponso is referring to, but can simply be verified from local civil aviation sources. How do you account for that Mr. Aponso with your 20 years experience?

M. Aponso, Mt. Lavinia.

Those forgotten senior citizens

There had been a big hue and cry up to the time of presentation of the Budget in 2003, by several Cabinet Ministers, mostly by those dissidents who joined the UNF in 2001, that there will be a four -figure increase in salary for pensioners.

Unfortunately it was on the eve of the Budget, the Deputy Minister, Finance, announced that this much-talked-about increase would be only 10% of the basic salary. It is agreed that a majority of these pensioners draw an average monthly pension between 3,000 to 6,000 (all inclusive of allowances) and hence this category will receive only a 3-figure increase while those in higher pension groups would receive a four-figure increase but yet they all belong to the category of pensioners. This is rather an anomalous situation faced by these pensioners.

We pensioners are a category of people who had once steered the State machinery contributing our might subjected to untold hardships under every regime that was in power, until our retirement. It is pathetic that the State looks upon these category of people as "Oxen who had outlived their period of usefulness" and are being treated as 2nd class citizens and the monthly pension paid to us is treated as a charity allowance.

At a time when these old generation of senior citizens should rest enjoying their latter years with their grandchildren, it is regrettable to note that the stress of economic factors have compelled them to continue doing some sort of odd jobs to keep both ends meet.

Most of these pensioners are often burdened with an additional responsibility in maintaining their unmarried daughters and unemployed sons - and the worst of it - even their grandchildren. In this context, the 10% increase of salary now paid has not given any relief to them in the wake of sky-rocketing cost of living, etcetera.

If as these ministers often have stated that it is an era of peace and no-war during the past two or more years, why couldn't these financial experts forsee the feasibility of utilising at least some of the funds unspent and remain as savings to ease the burden of pensioners? I could remember, the Deputy Minister of Finance, before his crossing over to the UNF had been vociferous in his advocacy for the uplift of the down-trodden and we had great expectations that our grievances would be addressed sympathetically. Such is the irony of politics!

According to the Finance Minister, as he had stated, hopes to appoint a committee to review the recommendations of Tissa Devendra Committee and make necessary adjustments at the next Budget. By the time these recommendations are reviewed and redress granted, most of us living in our last lap of life will not be among the living.

In the above context, we, pensioners do hope the Minister concerned would review our pathetic plight from a humanitarian point of view and address our grievances by re-modelling the existing pension structure in a manner that would at least enable the next generation of these senior citizens to spend their evening of life in a atmosphere of self-respect, comfort and peace of mind.

Don Sarath Abeyesekera, Bandarawela.

Blue sapphire and bird stamps

A blue sapphire gem stamp was issued on 21st October 2003 to commemorate the declaration of the gem as the national gem of Sri Lanka. Its significance has not been stated on the stamp or the bulletin issued. The stamp is completely out of proportion as it is too small to accommodate a very large gem. Its an insult indeed to the gem and the country. An attractively designed and printed blue sapphire gem stamp was issued on 16th June 1976.

The bulletin issued giving the technical details for the benefit of stamp collectors and stamp catalogue editors states that 75 million stamps were printed. The fact is that only 500,000 stamps were printed and issued. In fact all commemorative stamps issued for sale in the recent past have been only 500,000 stamps for each issue whereas the bulletins state one million stamps.

It would appear that the Post Master General and the Director of the Philatelic Bureau are misleading the stamp collectors and stamp catalogue editors. This needs immediate investigation as the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications states that he is encouraging schoolchildren to collect stamps.

How could children collect stamps when the quantity printed is so small? In fact a commemorative stamp is meant to disseminate some information to the public and therefore the quantity printed should be increased to 2 million stamps or even more.

The 25 birds stamp sheet which is now considered the worst stamp sheet ever printed in Sri Lanka was overprinted in Thai and language taken to the Thailand Stamp Exhibition for sale. Three thousand stamp sheets were over-printed but only some 400 stamp sheets, had been sold.

The Director and the clerk from the Philatelic Bureau who went for the exhibition had spent Rs. 200,000 each and a further Rs. 400,000 for the exhibition stall and came back with a massive loss to the government and all this money is the poor taxpayers' money.

These overprinted stamps have still not been released for sale to the Sri Lankan stamp collectors even though they are being privately sold at Rs. 400 each. An immediate correction of this malaise is absolutely essential.

Oliver T. Goonawardena, Moratuwa.

Icy chocs and lollipops to pensioners

A few weeks prior to the presentation of the budget in 2003 and immediately after the postponement of the date, the Finance Minister and other government MPs made the delay in the presentation of the budget a big issue, by stating that state employees and pensioners will receive substantial increases in their salaries and pensions if the budget was not unduly delayed.

Those most affected by this hoax are the pensioners who retired before 1992.

At the public meetings during that period, the government MPs had indicated that especially the pensioners, would get a surprisingly substantial increase in their pensions to meet the rise in cost of living over the years. This budget has given icy chocs to some pensioners and lollipops to some others.

It is a shame on all MPs both in the Government and in the Opposition, to sit in Parliament and do nothing about it. The main concern of any opposition in Parliament had been to topple the government in power. No Opposition had fought for the cause of the pensioners. It must be remembered that all MPs will receive a substantial pension even when they are rejected at an election.

This matter should be expedited giving it due serious concern. The pensions of those who retired earlier must be equated to the pensions of those who retire now holding the same posts in the service. Pensions have to be reviewed from time to time at regular intervals and updated as is done in other countries.

If this matter is not looked into immediately, but just dragged on for no other reason but cussedness, all pensioners, including their dependants should refrain from casting their vote at the next general election.

Joe Muttucumaru, Kalutara North.

Conversions: Why worry?

Several articles and letters have appeared in the press regarding conversions. All these appear to either condone or condemn one way or the other these conversions. Arising out of an experience in my family I am proposing a new fresh out look. My father-in-law was a good practising Hindu, he married a good practising Buddhist woman, who now at 90 is keenly following Buddhist rituals and readings, assisted by me to obtain this material.

I am a Catholic married to one of her daughters, and there is no imposition on her daughter to attend to Christian matters. She goes to church only when she wants to go. Her brother, born as a half Hindu and half Buddhist, turned to practising Hinduism. Later, he of his own choice became a Catholic. He baptized his children and sent them to Catholic schools.

Now he has become a Muslim, and when he visits me he practices his faith with some inconvenience to me, however I accommodate him, as I carry no antipathy towards him. Two of my brothers have married into good Buddhist families.

In any of our conversations or get together, religion has never been a topic. All of us who have been taught in Christian schools have been inculcated with the belief that we must be prepared to die for our belief. However, we were also taught to pay the utmost respect to every being, irrespective of his religious belief of his choice.

My ancestry would have been Hindus, and we believe that St. Francis Xavier would have converted us to Christianity, any way we consider that as history and that is not playing any part in our living and sharing with every one around us.

Now, why can't we keep religion as a private and personal affair and emulate it to a degree that everyone around will take notice that we stand out and that alone will bring, if not conversions at least followers, and who knows may become converts one day. Since all religions preach good, why are we particular that people must belong to a specific faith. Are we concerned about the NUMERICAL strength more than we are concerned about the reality that each man must live a good life and not be a menace to Society.

Numerical strength may be accepted on all material matters, except where religion is concerned. I would not mind if the whole world is converted to any religion or belief as long as my freedom to practise and preach what I believe in remains unrestricted. If I am to be the only Christian in the world of six billion, that would not make any difference to me.

Can any one of you imagine that one day if this six billion people belonged to your faith, and yet this world remains an unsafe place, with all the wars, damage to the environment and the neglect of people who are sick and the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, which is abundantly evident in this country of a nineteen million population. What would your position be?

This is what we should ask ourselves. Do we need a religion that encompasses the six billion, or do we need six billion people who will respect each others belief and convictions and how this six billion is divided amongst religions is of no consequence.

Walter Fernando, Ratmalana.

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