Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Rajapaksa

Padma Rao’s Sri Lanka

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday February 29 2016.

 

 

Colman's Column3

 

Rao cover

 

 

One particular passage in Padma Rao’s excellent book, Sri Lanka-The New Country, brought tears to these rheumy old eyes. It concerns her Sinhalese driver Udayanga and a Tamil waiter whom she calls Murugan. She first recounts Udayanga’s story. “Throughout the trip, he had displayed none of the rough chauvinism that many commentators outside Sri Lanka insist that the Sinhalese wear on their sleeve vis-à-vis their fellow Tamil citizens”. He was a Buddhist from Balangoda. From an early age he had wanted to join the army and he tried to enlist after the LTTE assassinated President Premadasa. Despite his parents’ best efforts to obstruct him, he was eventually accepted and after some hard training joined the Special Force. During the war he met many LTTE child soldiers. He said that Prabhakaran had no humanity. “Instead of giving them a pencil he would give them a gun”.

 

Murugan was a tall, lanky young man working at a hotel in Mannar. He shyly asked this Indian author “Is Prabhakaran in India?” Murugan had been an LTTE cadre, forced by guns held to his parents’ heads to enlist and he was afraid that the LTTE leader would return. She told him to get on with his life now that there was peace.

 

 

She saw Udayanga and Murugan playing carom in the courtyard with “a lot of boyish guffawing”. When the time came to leave the hotel, Udayanga walked towards Murugan and they engaged in stiff handshake, then some backslaps, finally a quick rough hug. “This is the future, these children of Sri Lanka. These boys, this embrace. This is Sri Lanka, the new country.”

 

At the beginning of the book she gives a brief run-through on Sri Lankan history and mentions the island’s geo-strategic relevance at the crossroad of shipping lanes and writes that it “expectedly remains a focal point not only for the United Nations, international NGOs and aid agencies but also the international media. She notes that members of the Tamil diaspora are still trying to fund Tamil separatism “despite the fact that millions of fatigued Sri Lankan Tamils who did not flee, like the diaspora itself, but stayed back and bore the brunt of the terrible war, want no more talk of separatism”. She notes that foreign media may not always help these fatigued people to achieve their modest desires. “What news reporters see and experience on the ground often differs from what editors at the headquarters of their publications expect or want them to produce”.

 

She contrasts the bleakness of the north when she visited during the cease fire of 2002 with the north as it is today. “From Vavuniya onwards we had not seen a single bus, truck or even a cycle anywhere. We saw no children playing, no women hanging out washing, no men smoking under a tree. Up to here we had seen and heard nothing, except cicadas and the sound of our own car”. At Killinochchi “there was no electricity. There were a few people selling a few utility items like candles, matchboxes and solitary, stray vegetables on small plastic sheets on what must have once been a pavement”.

 

On a previous visit she had encountered a group of two dozen people squatting in a circle, tears streaming down their faces. Each person was holding a picture of a boy or a girl. They had heard that foreigners were in the Wanni and wanted to tell about their missing children. When warned that the LTTE might punish them for what they were doing, one man replied “what have we got to live for anyway?” That man later contacted the author to say the LTTE had told him that his son had been killed in fighting near Elephant Pass. He was the proud owner of a certificate of martyrdom signed by Prabhakaran.

 

When she visits Jaffna just before the Northern Provincial Council elections, the author wants to go to villages to talk to “ordinary” people. She is able to do this as the aide accompanying her makes himself scarce. Everyone she talks to praises the Army. One man said: “The LTTE was only involved in violence, absolutely nothing else. Our life in the Wanni was miserable. They kept taking our children away. There was no food, no power, absolutely nothing in our lives except blood. Blood, blood…”

 

Ms Rao notices vast improvement in the Eastern province as well as in the north. “Critics often say that building roads and setting up shops is not development. Try looking at it from the point of view of those who have lived in a place like Batticaloa for thirty years”. She saw many groves of coconut trees. Gone were the charred and barren fields of decades and most of the tents housing fleeing populations. The last of the landmines were being cleared. Mangroves are being restored to help local fishermen.

 

Former Tiger propaganda chief Daya Master told the author, “How many countries in the world would have emerged from such a long war and rebuilt within four years even half of what has been achieved here?” The author reminded him of the strictures from the international community. “Who is this international community, madam? … What is their purpose and role in a small country so far away? They are going over the top and making far too much noise. Why don’t they restrict themselves to doing some developmental work here… and leave our political future to us and our elected governments?”

 

“Why is it that you people focus only and entirely on the Sri Lankan army, and not on the brutality of the LTTE? I know it intimately. I have witnessed it for decades and indeed was forced to be part of it. Please tell them in your reports to forget the past and concentrate on the future. For us in this country that is the bottom line!”

 

The author comments: “The condemnation of violations by the LTTE is there – in the fine print – in all recent UN resolutions against Colombo. But it is never the same fanfare of publicity and vigour as is the key demand for condemning Rajapaksa and insisting on an international inquiry.”

 

Although Ms Rao is a foreigner, there is nothing of the dilettante parachute journalist about her. She has been visiting and writing about Sri Lanka for two and half decades. For fourteen years, she was the South Asia bureau chief of the Hamburg-based Der Spiegel. She has interviewed everybody who is anybody – Mahinda Rajapaksa (she was the first foreign journalist interview him when he was first sworn in as president and the first print reporter to interview him after the end of the war), Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga (who typically kept her waiting for 14 hours), Prabhakaran (who also kept her waiting), Karuna, Douglas Devananda, CV Wigneswaran, MA Sumanthiran, R Sampanthan, GL Peiris, Erik Solheim, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, General Sarath Fonseka, Major General Udaya Perera (“write what you like. But have a dosa.”), Major General Hathurasinghe,Lakshman Kadirgamar (“an inspiration and one of the few people who left me tongue-tied as a reporter”), Daya Master, Jehan Perera, KP, Dilhan Fernando, Hiran Cooray, junior members of all branches of the state’s armed forces, former male and female LTTE cadres, as well as numerous ordinary citizens of all ethnicities. She travelled far and wide island-wide and visited peripheral islands.

 

 

Throughout the book she reminds us that she is paying for travel and accommodation herself. She also stresses that she encountered no interference from the government or the army.

Despite her broad and deep knowledge of Sri Lanka, Padma Rao approaches her task with humility. “This book is neither meant as unsolicited advice, nor as admonishment, nor critique of either Tamil or Sinhalese Sri Lankans”. She humbly apologises in advance for any errors.

 

Sri Lanka: The New Country by Padma Rao Sundarji was first published on February 15 2015 by Harper-Collins, India. It is now available on Kindle.

Corbyn versus Mann

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This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday August 28 2015.

 

corbyn

I published an article in Ceylon Today recently hung on the peg of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the leadership of the UK Labour Party. I specifically dealt with Corbyn’s role in the Islington child abuse scandal of the 1980s and 1990s but my main interest was in the kind of reasoning that goes into political debate.

John Mann’s Case against Corbyn

John Mann MP issued an open letter to Corbyn on July 23 2015, in which he said: “The extent of the abuse was only uncovered through the tenacity and bravery of whistle-blowers, journalists and survivors which led to a number of independent inquiries and the damning Ian White report in 1995”. The gist of John Mann’s argument is that Corbyn is not fit to lead the Labour Party at a time when much attention in Parliament and the media will be generated by the Goddard Inquiry into historic sexual abuse of children. This is not because anyone suspects Corbyn of being an abuser himself but because he was not pro-active in helping the victims or in establishing an investigation and indeed obstructed investigations.

Smearing Mann

Mann’s letter struck a chord with me because I was working on child protection at the Department of Health from 1994 to 1997. I saw files and was privy to discussions about the Islington care homes scandal. I can endorse that the leader of Islington Council, Margaret Hodge, and the local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, were, to put it charitably, less than helpful to the Department’s investigations.

The first comment was that Mann was “not fond of us northerners”. He was born in Pudsey, Yorkshire and educated in Bradford. He represents the constituency of Bassetlaw, which is well north of Watford.

Mann’s opinion of Corbyn was thought to be undermined by the fact that he was supporting Yvette Cooper for leader. He makes no secret of this and surely he can support whoever he likes. But wait- someone else accuses Mann of the crime of “trying to influence the election”. Is that not allowed in a democracy?

Kevin Higgins

Because I agreed with Mann, that meant that I was fair game for smearing too. Kevin Higgins is an Irish poet who I had admired and whom I had thought of as a good (virtual) friend. Although he is an Irish citizen living in Galway, Higgins is strongly campaigning for Corbyn. He thought it was OK to call me a liar who was not to be believed on any topic. He said that I was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. He called Mann “deranged”. He provided a link beside this assertion, which I thought would provide evidence of Mann’s insanity. The link led me to a very silly poem by Higgins in which he fantasises about Mann while sitting on the lavatory. Who is the mad one here?

Monster Mann

Generally, Corbyn’s supporters content themselves with attacking Mann rather than rebutting his arguments. One called him “Tory Labour lite”. Most think he is not a proper socialist. Some called him a “Blairite”. What is the cause of such hatred?

As I read about him in parliamentary sketches it strikes me that he is one of the awkward squad. I have had a good look at Mann’s voting record in the Commons. The big black marks are that he voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq and against an inquiry into it. On domestic issues, he is very much on the side of the angels, voting against benefit cuts and austerity measures in general. Mann was also vocal in criticising other MPs over the expenses scandal. He was responsible for lodging the complaint that resulted in an inquiry into Tory minister Maria Miller’s expenses claims.

He has organised numerous positive campaigns in his constituency, examples of which include campaigning to save Bassetlaw Hospital Accident and Emergency Department and helping former coal miners to get their compensation. Following reforms recommended by an inquiry he instigated, the number of heroin addicts in treatment in Bassetlaw rose from 2 to 400, and acquisitive crime fell by 75%.

In 2014 Mann was responsible for compiling a dossier of historic allegations of child abuse, detailing allegations about 12 former ministers that may have been involved. He said he believes some of them were “definitely child abusers”.

Agenda

I once worked with someone who was campaigning against female circumcision and her constant battle cry was that FGM should be “pushed up the management agenda”. Agenda is a vogue word and has become something sinister. However much I might protest that I am just an elderly  gentleman scholar living up a mountain in Sri Lanka, I am often accused of having an ‘agenda’. I have been accused of being sent to Sri Lanka by MI5 to undermine the Rajapaksa government. Others accused me of being on Gota’s payroll. I have been portrayed as a Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinist and a propagandist for the Tamil Tigers. Now I am apparently a dyed-in-the wool Daily Mail Tory out to destroy the Left in Britain.

Someone noted that my article was published in Ceylon Today and provided a link to an article about Sri Lanka being a haven for paedophiles. I think this was intended to smear me as a paedophile.

Evasion

The distinguished UK writer and TV dramatist Janey Preger wrote that my previous  article was a : “great piece… well-written and well-said”. She tried to share it with former Guardian journalist W Stephen Gilbert. Apparently, he disliked my article so much that he refused to read. How did he know that he disliked it so much if he had not read it?

Timing – Post propter hoc

A pseudonymous commenter (LightShedder) on my blog, after calling me vicious, asserted that Corbyn is on record as having called for an investigation at the time of the allegations. I know that his spokesman said this recently but I can find no record of Corbyn making such a demand in the I980s or 1990s. If anyone can provide me with a link to a contemporaneous call for an investigation, I will humbly eat my toupee. I asked LightShedder to help me with this, saying that I would publicly apologise if evidence is forthcoming. At the time of writing this I have received no response.

Someone referred me to a news item in the Belfast Telegraph about Corbyn calling for a standing commission on child abuse. Another bureaucratic entity might be just what is needed, but I doubt that it would help. The main problem is that Corbyn called for this on August 5 2015 – what did he call for in the 1990s?

One commenter seemed to be saying that because I said that I believed Mann’s allegations after seeing documentary evidence, the fact that I could not now produce this evidence   placed me in the same league as the totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union, China, Iran and the Tudors. This is insanely disproportionate.  My “evidence” is not necessary to the case presented about Corbyn’s lack of action. The issue has been in the public domain for a long time. This is not just conspiracy theorists. Social worker Liz Davies’s testimony is credible.

Dr Davies has been telling the Islington story for 30 years. That does not stop some Corbyn supporters saying “why did no-one mention this before? You are only bringing it up to smear Corbyn”. Because she is quoted in the Daily Mail, someone says it “can’t be true because it’s in the Mail.

Conclusion

Responses to my article brought a rich harvest of flawed thinking. I read those comments with a copy of philosopher Nigel Warburton’s Thinking from A to Z close at hand. Warburton covers the following tricks of bad argument: false dichotomy, ad hominem, referential ambiguity, disanalogy, assumption, bad company fallacy, enthymeme, lexical ambiguity, companions in guilt move. I recommend having the book to hand when reading about Sri Lankan politics too.

 

Killing Dogs – Again

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday January 15 2012.

 

The present-day Sri Lankan Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena made a statement in Kalutara on January 6, 2012, that he has decided to revive the policy of killing street dogs “in the traditional way”.

 

If I have any regular readers, they will have noticed that I am not a great fan of tourism. However, if Sri Lanka really does want to attract tourists it would be a good idea to provide hotel rooms that don’t have stained towels, filthy rugs and alien hairs in the bedding. Another good strategy would be to avoid-cutting paying customers’ throats and sexually assaulting foreign women on the beaches. Calling it “Eve-Teasing” really does not make it into a quaint and lovable local custom. The New York Times has dropped Sri Lanka from its list of recommended holiday destinations.

A very painful process

Another quaint local custom foreign tourists probably will not appreciate is filling the streets with dead dogs. Calling mass slaughter of street dogs the “traditional way” makes it sound like one of those quaint old folk ways that tourists will flock to see.

Back in 2002, I was strolling past the Bandarawela Hotel in the tea country, a favourite destination even then for western tourists, and also crowded with visitors from all over Sri Lanka during public holidays.

I thought I noticed two sleeping dogs huddled together, prone on the sidewalk. A few hundred yards on I saw two more prone dogs. Then there was another three and they were covered with flies; the dogs were making no efforts to dislodge the flies. All along Dharmavijaya Mawatha and back along Main Street, dogs lay motionless on the pavement. Crows were pecking the eyeballs of some. Outside a stall on the market selling vadais, a dog was a seething mass of bluebottles, which were also sampling the vadais and moving along to the fish and meat stalls.

 

This was a consequence of the “traditional way”. The “traditional way” is a very painful process. Dogs undergo immense suffering after the poison is injected, sometimes writhing in agony for hours, jerking with muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth.

 

Horrifying films

Being of an interfering nature, always interfering with nature, we decided to do something about this situation and tried to organise our own sterilisation programme with a friend who is a veterinarian. She took us to a meeting of vets and medical officers of health at the Uva Provincial council Health HQ. The chief government vet Dr PAL Harischandra and Dr Nilamani Hewageegana, who was then deputy provincial director of Health services for Uva Province, addressed the meeting.

We saw horrifying films of actual rabies victims in their death throes, strapped to hospital beds, screaming and writhing and frothing at the mouth. They crave something to quench their thirst but scream in agony at the sight of water. They cut their own arteries as they frenziedly crash through glass in a vain attempt to escape from the horror.

 

Every ten minutes, somewhere in the world, someone dies from rabies infection. Of the reported cases, 30-50% are children under 15.

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease but it is still a public health problem in many countries in Asia, even though safe, effective vaccines for both human and veterinary use exist. Most of the 50,000 deaths from rabies reported annually around the world occur in Asia, and most of the victims are children.

 

Knowledge of these horrendous facts might be a deterrent to someone planning a holiday in Sri Lanka.

 

Back in 2002, Dr Hewageegana invited us to her home one evening and gave us advice on how we might approach our modest project. We did not have any huge ambitions but hoped we could help in a small way. Dr Hewageegana informed us that she was having discussions with the chairman of the Urban District Council about her Healthy cities project. During the course of those discussions she had received an assurance from him that the slaughter of street dogs in his bailiwick would cease.

 

Dr Harischandra corresponded with us regularly, gave us helpful advice and invited us to meetings and seminars.

 

In 2005, scrawny dogs patrolled the wreckage after the tsunami. There were scare stories in the press about thousands of starving and desperate dogs roaming the night, biting people and eating human corpses. The government veterinary service, led by Dr Harischandra courageously resisted calls for mass slaughter of stray dogs and took the opportunity, with the support of tireless local vets, foreign volunteers and the then Minister of Health, Nimal Siripala de Silva, to carry out a programme of mass anti-rabies vaccinations and sterilisation of dogs.

 

In June 2006, President Rajapaksa’s website proudly carried a letter from Monika Kostner in Germany: “Mr President, let me congratulate you on the path that you have chosen. Please continue pursuing it. I greatly welcome your pledge to bring stringent laws against cruelty to animals. Do not give way to those political forces and vested interests, which are keen to continue the outdated, cruel treatment of animals. After all, they are living and feeling creatures.”

 

Visakha Tillekeratne, one of the five trustees of the Animal Welfare Trust, responded thus to Minister Sirisena’s statement: “I believe he is being wrongly advised.” Animal welfare groups united to explain that mass slaughter has been shown in many countries to be ineffective. Sterilization is the only solution.

 

Unfortunately, a good policy established by Nimal Siripala de Silva has been bungled and undermined by greed and corruption. Nevertheless, despite what Minister Sirisena claims, rabies deaths in Sri Lanka have reduced, not increased. The Epidemiology Unit of the Health Ministry said that the number of deaths caused by rabies dropped in Sri Lanka by 50% last year compared to the deaths reported during 2006 to 2010. According to Health Education Bureau statistics, 18 rabies deaths  were reported from the Western Province in 2009, while this figure had dropped to 11 in 2010 as a result of a number of awareness programmes carried out by local government institutions in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

 

We thought we were making progress when a dog-lover, Nimal Siripala de Silva, whose wife is an animal welfare activist, was health minister, and the president, many times reiterated his no-kill policy. Thanks to Minister Sirisena, Sri Lanka is again being shamed. An international petition is being organized and is attracting comments like: “Sri Lanka, the world is watching you.”

 

Champa Fernando of KACPAW speculated: “Is he trying to bring discredit to the president? The No-Kill policy came from the president and this is the only humane way.”

 

The president had said that mass slaughter was against the Buddhist philosophy of living in harmony.

Minister Sirisena had said some sin , must be committed in order to gather merit.

 

Health Ministry spokesman WMD Wanniniyaike Iater said that there was no move to kill stray dogs and said that Minister Sirisena’s remarks had been taken out of context. Let us see how long it is before this subject comes up again.

 

Blessing or Curse? Three-Wheelers in Sri Lanka.

This article was published in Ceylon Today on March 12 2014

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Three-wheeled motorised rickshaws, or tuk-tuks, first emerged in Japan and Italy 50 years ago. Now they can be seen everywhere – Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Peru, Sri Lanka and Thailand are the biggest markets. They are growing in numbers in cities in east Africa and in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the Middle East and China. In many ways, the three-wheeler (aka auto-rickshaw, samosa, tempo, tuk-tuk, trishaw, auto, rickshaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, mototaxi, baby taxi or lapa) is a wonderful invention. I find them very useful (and relatively cheap, if I am vigilant) in getting around the shops and restaurants when I am in Colombo. Back home, it is useful to send for a three-wheeler when I need a gas cylinder or a crate of beer. Three-wheelers are ideal for negotiating the rocky road to my front gate.

Benefits

There have been dour and earnest academic papers on the virtues of the three-wheeler. Let me quote from one of them. The authors are AK Somasundaraswaran, MBIT Kumari and DHSDA Siriwardana. They assert that the three-wheeler “provides door-to-door services and helps to reduce the unemployment problem and improve the poverty level”.  That is a fair enough argument. Then they get over-excited and partisan on behalf of the three-wheeler. They complain that it is a “pathetic situation” that “their operations fail to get the credit from the society”.

Messrs Somasundaraswaran, Kumari and Siriwardana have a somewhat rose-tinted view of Sri Lankan buses too. “In Sri Lanka, after a reformed public transport arrangement in 1977, private sector has taken a key role in providing transport services. Since then the private buses started their operation in a well organized manner with a schedule time table”. More about Sri Lankan buses in a future article. Our idealistic authors see three-wheelers as filling gaps that even such a well-organised bus service cannot fill. “Transport in early morning or late night has become a problem for the public, especially commuters in rural areas or in small cities. Three-wheelers perform many of the same functions as the taxi and it is considered as a next step up ladder for personal mobility to buses in small cities.”

 

Three- Wheelers and Poverty

 

H D Karunaratne of Colombo University looks at three-wheelers as a means of poverty reduction. He says: “Over 70% of these taxis are utilized by the urban community and are handled by low income groups in urban areas. As a driver, service man, repairer, producer of parts, retail seller of parts, and parking assistant, poor people had opportunities to earn money from the three-wheeler taxi industry. In addition, indirect income generating opportunities were also generated by that industry.”

 

Professor Karunaratne gave a figure of 200,000 three-wheelers in the country. Minister Basil Rajapaksa announced his plan to make Sri Lanka poverty-free by 2016 through self-employment opportunities rather than the old Keynesian way of spending government money and creating jobs. He said this at a ceremony held at Hyde Park, Colombo in connection with the distribution of 250 three-wheelers among self-employed persons in accordance with the Mahinda Chinthana Vision. The event was organized by the Self-Employed Persons Federation, which expected to distribute 1000 three wheelers during 2013. According to the Federation, there were nearly 500,000 three-wheeler drivers in the country 92,000 providing spares and other services.  Three-wheelers gave jobs directly to  600,000 people.  There were almost 2.5 million indirect beneficiaries. Annual sales figures for the wheelers stand at 40,000 to 45,000 units and its demand will further increase with the opening of Northern and Eastern markets.

Downside

I recognise that inconvenience to me is a trivial matter compared to eliminating poverty in Sri Lanka by 2016. I am an early riser, so it is not a major problem to me if I have to set off at the crack of dawn to do my grocery shopping. If I set off any later, every available space in town is filled  by three-wheelers. If I squeeze into a small space that is too close to a pedestrian crossing or infringes on a pavement, the police will quickly nab me. Recently, I grabbed a space outside the hospital only to be told by a taxi driver that the space was reserved for three-wheelers.

According to the Sunday Times, there are 800,000 three-wheelers operating in the country, of which about 300,000 operate within the Colombo.

Safety

Our doughty champions of the three-wheeler, Somasundaraswaran, Kumari and Siriwardana, found in their survey of three-wheeler drivers that “About 68% of them have drinking habits and 87% have smoking habits. Superficially, 66% of the drinking drivers operate their vehicle under the influence of liquor.” I am not quite sure what “superficial” drunken driving is.

 

At a workshop held in Colombo on March2 2014, Professor  K Karunathilaka of Colombo University said his  research showed  there are about 480,000 three wheelers in Sri Lanka at present. He acknowledged “three wheel drivers massively contribute to Sri Lankan economy” but his research showed that that 48 percent of them were careless drivers.

 

It is easy enough to trawl the newspapers and find many examples of horrific accidents involving three-wheelers.  There were 7,927 accidents in 2010 involving three-wheelers. One can easily observe why accidents happen. They turn around onto the main road without looking. They overtake on the inside. They tootle along in the middle of the road with their indicators on.  The spot fine for turning without signalling is  Rs 500, while the maximum court fines is Rs 5,000.  The maximum court for reckless and dangerous driving is Rs 5,000. The spot fine for causing obstruction is  Rs 500 and the  court fine Rs 1,000. The fines are the same for crossing the single line and double continuous line.

Will the Market Decide?

I had hoped that with the advent of the Nanocab and metered three-wheelers, my transportation around Colombo would be less fraught than in the past. Those tiresome negotiations about fares and grumbles from drivers about distance should have ended. We are not quite there yet. On a recent visit, I prebooked a metered Nanocab from the suburbs. We had eaten up quite a lot of the road on the way to our destination when the talkative driver announced: “l forgot to switch the meter on.” I said “Oh.” There was no further conversation.

 

Metered three-wheelers seemed great in theory. Initially, it worked well for me in practice. I got in a resting vehicle near House of Fashion and went to Liberty Plaza. The fare was 130 rupees. In the past, I would have had to pay much more, even with prior negotiation. From Liberty Plaza, I accepted an invitation from a driver to get into his “meter cab”.  When we got to the Cricket Club Café, he said: “Two hundred rupees.” I asked why his charge was more than for the equivalent or lesser distance in the other direction. “‘What does the meter say?” I asked. “Meter broken,” was his riposte.

In Colombo, there may be enough gullible tourists around for the drivers to get away with this and not worry about repeat business. Perhaps some economic law will start to kick in and bad practices will be driven out by good ones. Surely, there is a glut of three-wheelers in the market anyway?

Professor Karunaratne gave a figure of 200,000 three-wheelers throughout the country. Professor  K Karunathilaka of Colombo University said his  research showed  there are about 480,000 three wheelers in Sri Lanka at present. According to the Self-Employed Persons Federation, there were nearly 500,000 three-wheeler drivers. According to the Sunday Times, there are 800,000 three-wheelers operating in the country.

Three-wheeler operators recognise that, with more operators trying to establish themselves and with the increase in metered cabs and Nanocabs, business is falling off. Who would want to endure a white-knuckle ride in   three-wheeler risking carbon monoxide poisoning when one could travel in comfort in a Nano cab? Many three-wheeler operators are losing business, with some of them already looking for other work. We have always tried to help local drivers who have given us good service. For example, we have passed on second hand mobile phones and even helped with small loans. They may soon be beyond help, left stranded on the shore by the tide of evolution. One driver that we have used on a regular basis has given up and gone to work in a shop in Colombo.

It is the President’s vision that Sri Lanka should rise in the world as a country by raising the living standards of families, thereby ensuring village development, provincial development and eventually national development.  It is clear that if the government wants to promote the use of three-wheelers the voice of an old curmudgeon like myself will have no influence. However, what does the market think about all this?

 

 

UN representative visits Sri Lanka IDP camps

This was posted on The Agonist September 19 2009.

B Lynn Pascoe, Under Secretary of the United Nations for Political Affairs, visited the IDP camps and met President Rajapaksa and his ministers.

Commenting on his visit to the north, Mr. Pascoe stated that he was ”impressed by the work done by the Army, the demining teams, the UN staff and the civil society” and that the team also witnessed the rehabilitation work that was underway. He also stated that in Jaffna, they were able to feel that the people were looking forward to getting more opportunities and that there was a feeling that a ”whole era was waiting for them”.

”In the Mannar area, we witnessed crews repairing roads and a school, as well as construction work on a large water reservoir to serve some 2,500 families slated to be resettled next week. We saw work being done in preparing rice fields for planting before the monsoons. We received a briefing and demonstration by the military on progress in clearing mines out of the Mannar Rice Bowl region.

In Jaffna, we visited two IDP camps: (a) The Kopai camp housing about four hundred people uprooted during fighting in the final two months of last year; and (b) the Kaidhely University Hostel, which houses more than 500 people who arrived about a week ago from Manik Farms. Also in Jaffna, we visited a rehabilitation center for former LTTE members, about 150 men and women.

We ended the trip in Vavuniya, at the Manik Farms camp. We witnessed food distribution and had an opportunity to talk to IDPs and camp administrators.”

During the discussions, issues pertaining to the health care services provided to the IDPs, educational facilities including the vocational training were also highlighted.

Secretary, Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms, S. K. Gamlath explained the progress made in the rehabilitation of ex-combatants. He stated that after rehabilitation, some have reintegrated into society, while others have gone overseas for employment arranged under a special rehabilitation programme. He also acknowledged the assistance rendered by the UNICEF in this endeavor.

Director General, Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition, Dr. Ajith Mendis, referred to the improvements and the enhancements that have been made to the existing health facilities provided to the IDPs. He pointed out that the hospitals and the clinics in the welfare centers have been strengthened with additional staff and the drug store has also been supplied with adequate medicines and other medical supplies.

Mr Pascoe was encouraged by what he saw but still had some concerns.

”We have urged the government to take the following steps:

To allow those who have completed the screening process to leave the camps as they choose.

For those remaining in the camps, at the very least, they shouldbe able to leave the camps during the daytime, and to freelyvisit friends and family in other sites.”

Responding to Mr. Pascoe’s observation that International Community has concerns when it hears that resettlement will be done after de-mining is completed, the President said resettlement did depend on the de-mining process. He mentioned that sixteen years after its war, Croatia had still not finished de-mining. “We do not intend taking so much time. I have laid down an initial target of 180 days to resettle at least 70% of the IDPs”. With the new equipment in use, and hopefully more to come, he expected the entire resettlement to be completed by the end of next January. “We have identified areas for resettlement and the people will be sent back as they are cleared”.

On the question of IDPs moving to live with relations outside, the President said that the government had already published advertisements in the media, calling for applications from persons seeking such resettlement. However, only 2000 applications had been received. These notices would be published again and also displayed prominently at the welfare villages.

With regard to freedom of movement outside the relief centers the President said that arrangements are already being made to issue day-passes for IDPs who wish to work outside.

Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President said that with the experience of 2000 applicants for re-union with relations, and the limited numbers of jobs in the area, it is likely that there will be only a few takers for these day-passes.

Recalling President Rajapaksa’s earlier commendable record on Human Rights, Mr. Pascoe said he acknowledged the need to adapt the role of the security forces, especially after a very long war. President Rajapaksa said the UN must be aware of the changes that had already being initiated at a very early stage after the war.

President Rajapaksa said: “Whether it is the US, China, Britain or any country we are all members of the UN. When the UN says anything about us we take it seriously. Similarly if big countries, try to bully us we will come to the UN about such matters.”

Mr Pascoe said: ”In the end, Sri Lanka is an energetic member of the United Nations, and it is important that we are able to have a constructive dialogue
about our disagreements. The United Nations is here to help, and will do whatever it can to help Sri Lanka move forward. Our commitment is clear, and much remains to be done.”

“This is an opportunity to move beyond simply ending the fighting to solidifying the peace. As the situation currently stands in the camps, there is a real risk of breeding resentment that will undermine the prospects for political reconciliation in the future.”

Mr. Pascoe concluded by telling President Rajapaksa, “You have a better story than is getting out today.”

Julie MacLusky

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