Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A year on from the event that put paid to a journey of discovery

In 2004, I gave up a career in the UK where I was Country Manager for Dilmah Tea as well their rep at various trade shows in Europe selling the finest premium brand of tea of worldwide repute. The brand is Marketed in over 90 countries and in many countries the name Dilmah was better known than Sri Lanka.

After 33 years of living mainly in USA and UK, where I obtained my secondary school education and degree, as well as the Chartered Accountancy qualification, and with different career and lifestyle changes along the way, I returned to Sri Lanka to farm in the Rural areas by purchasing a property in the Polonnaruwa district in Minneriya, in addition to the one I had in Godagama, Meegoda.

Life was not easy, it was very hard work, but the blog which was started in 2007 goes a long way to explain why I did it as well as the incredible amount I learned about a lot of issues I had hitherto not been exposed to, and I do not need to elaborate as it is extensively dealt with here and in the blog I have written to explain some of the personal experiences and opinions on the farming activity I undertook, www.villagerinsrilanka.blogspot.com

However, on 30th January 2011 on a clear Sunday afternoon, when I was returning from my fields in Minneriya, with about 2000 oranges in the back of my pickup truck, I was hit on my driving side, almost opposite the Army HQ of the Eastern Command in Minneriya, by the out of control Police back up Blue Landcruiser with the security contingent of the convoy that was taking Rauff Hakeem, the Cabinet Minister of Justice of the now ‘Banana Republic’ to Batticaloa.

The resulting injuries, and the totaling of my Tata Pick up left me no option, but to abandon my work, namely the only person in Sri Lanka, who was growing, transporting, and delivering (as well as retailing) to the door of my customers, a range of food items of about 60. In fact as I was a one man small business being key to organizing my staff directly, my enterprise collapsed at the moment of the accident, as there was no backup plan to carry on in the event of my incapacity.

The blog entries from that date reflect the alternative course of action I had to follow, and as I still have no mode of transport, and inability to drive, having difficulty walking with the elbow crutch, cannot see a return to the previous lifestyle, I had chosen, wanted to pursue, and also really did enjoy despite the difficulties and frustrations as documented in the blog. After my recovery and recuperation, I am now a Private Secretary to a MP from the opposition UNP.

The blog is called 'Dream into Reality' and I am still chasing the Dream and will continue to record Reality as I see it, a personal journey of discovery warts and all.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

EXCLUSIVE – Not reported anywhere –Incidents at the Election on Saturday for the boards of the Multipurpose Cooperative Societies in the Biyagama DS

Only when you see it with your own eyes can you sometimes get a handle on how deep rooted ‘abuse of power’ is even at the local level by the Governing Coalition

We were at a polling booth right outside Bollagala Maha Vidyalaya, a 30 minute drive across the Kelani River to the Sri Lanka Parliament, at 12.45pm. A gang of about 60 hired thugs arrived in 10 vehicles with the Chairman of the Biyagama Pradeshiya Sabha, Ganepola, who had previously left the UNP to join the UPFA seeing the pecuniary advantage in so doing. There was another turncoat, Saman another PS member in the gang, and some in the rabble were known to us. Their aim was to intimidate the election officials, and stuff the ballot boxes with votes. They would not dare do so in the presence of the local MP who was also known to them, so after a while they left, only to return after we left, beat up some of the UNP elderly voters and candidates and attempt to stuff votes.

They had already stuffed votes in Makola. That poll was subsequently cancelled after protests by the UNP candidates. When a voter comes to the booth he gives his name and membership number and if the ID card tallies with the membership name, is given a ballot paper to cast a vote. The thugs, armed with the membership register, give a name and number, some may be of deceased members, and demand that an ID is not necessary and cast a vote for a name on the list. The election officials in fear of their jobs or other pressure give in and permit this free for all. In some cases when the aggrieved party complains, then he is threatened and some of the violence was as a result of that. In fact at the Makola polling station, we arrived minutes after the ballot stuffing had taken place, without any shame, and we transported an injured person to the Kiribathgoda hospital for first aid, as he was hurt trying to protect his father and took the blow meant for the father.

On this first hand experiences of what happened in a minor poll, one gets an indication of the level to which this administration would go to prevent losing. It was apparent that the UNP would win, so this was the process to stop it. All the elections yesterday where there was no ballot stuffing and intimidation, the UNP won! That in itself is an indication of how difficult it is to instill Democracy in the mindset of an autocratic regime, hell bent on ruling forever using whatever means at their disposal.

The MP who I was accompanying promptly wrote a letter of protest to the relevant election official to cancel the poll, with copies to the President. Let us see the result

For more detail on the reason for the Poll; Yesterday, Saturday, 28th January 2012 were the elections at a number of the local coop societies (they run the coop city stores and low interest loan schemes) in the Biyagama divisional secretariat area. They were held after a lapse of many years and the Governing party wanted to do this on the QT without due process, but the UNP got wind of it and demanded that the Elections be held under the rules. Nominations were on Saturday 21st January, by 10am and in some of these the nomination papers were grabbed by the goons of the Chairman of the Biyagama Pradeshiya Sabha and in those areas, the Governing party nominees (9 on the Board) were elected unopposed.

The Co-Ops are vestiges of old socialist (now almost defunct) ideals of local people joining a cooperative to help each other in purchasing essentials at low cost and obtaining emergency loans when in need. The voting is by the members only, and the membership is essentially elderly people, as few young people have joined these societies in the recent past. Many on the membership roster are now dead, and the roster has not been updated to remove them! In essence the 40 or so Co-Ops have between 500 and 1500 members, and each elects 9 to the Board and these elected officials then elect the main Co-Op office bearers for the Divisional Secretariat Division. As these are local organizations, they really should not get too political, except that people vote on political lines but it should be restricted to the local level, meaning the few streets in the area that comprise the coop for that area.

The intervention of gangs hired by the local Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman is in itself an embarrassment for the local people who live in homes that have different political affiliations. If an elder of the UNP candidate list is beat up by the gang, how can his UPFA neighbor with whom he has very cordial relations, explain this embarrassing event over which he took no part nor agrees with. The UNP wanted an impartial ballot with the membership free to vote for whoever they wanted. The ruling party Elected Politicians fearing they would lose, affecting status, used intimidatory tactics to put fear not just on their opponents but also the election officials who were sent by the Department of Elections, and the Police who were also sent to the polling booth to ensure order.

The incumbent President MUST take full responsibility for the culture of impunity with which his nominees elected and appointed act under his Administration. The example has been set from the top in condoning acts of violence and intimidation. Even the PS Chairman implicated in the murder of the British tourist was permitted to Chair the meeting of his PS, in the President’s own home town. The “Buck” really stops with him to preserve Democracy, not further his ‘Dictatorship’!

Friday, January 27, 2012

DS Senanayake Central School, Mirigama – A National School

I visited the above school for a function on Wednesday, 25th January 2012. Prior to visiting the place, I Googled to get information, but was only able to find scant information about the place, which is in itself a shame an indictment of the fact that the school has not really even reached the Internet WWW world!!

Anyway to summarize, the school where DS Senanayake laid the foundation stone in 1951 was open in 1953 as the Mirigama English College, which much later changed its name, and received National School status, in that the funding is direct from the Central Government and not the Provincial Councils, which fund most of the schools. It is on 26 Acres of lush wooded grounds, with a playing field alone that is over 5 acres and much larger than the Trinity Asgiriya Test playing field.

There are 1750 students and over 100 teaching staff, with a Buddhist Priest as the current Principal. The classes are from grade 6 to 13, with the school sending on average 15 students to University every year. The computer lab which was opened in 2003 has 18 functioning computers of that vintage, which is used extensively to teach IT to all students, however it was set up as a Computer Aided teaching tool originally. It really needs an overhaul as after 9 years the age of the machines show

The notable feature was the lack of funding for any capital or repair work or even a facelift that is badly needed, as the central govt. has no allocation for that and only pays the teachers’ salaries and for normal consumables. The lack of funding showed, and I know for certain if this place was a private school, it would be world class bearing in mind the surroundings the kids have and the playing fields, that exude wasted potential.

If funding is not forthcoming despite this school being included in the much touted Govt. 1000 secondary school program that is supposed to give schools facilities that will permit them to improve their standards of teaching to a much higher level it did not seem to happen here! The large school hall does NOT have chairs. The kids have to bring their chairs from their class rooms when coming into assembly.

Unlike the well endowed Colombo schools, the old boys/girls of this mixed school are probably not sufficiently wealthy to provide all its needs. Money is NOT asked from new students who entered the school with a pass mark of 156 or above from the primary schools for the 5th grade exam (shishyathwaya) to pay for building improvements. Of the 200 or so kids entering Grade 6 all but 20 come from the Primary system in the area with the cut off mark noted earlier, with the rest coming on preference due to the Old pupil connections etc. It appeared on the face of it to be run well, but the exterior looks particularly run down, badly needing basic repairs and painting. One of the requests made of us on our visit was to see if we can find donors to build a wall around the school to protect the school from various intrusions, something that would protect the students and give them an element of safety and comfort.

I went with a descendent of DS Senanayaka a great grandson to be exact, to present the school with chairs for the Hall which was specifically requested by the Principal and he out of his personal funds also gave small gifts of clothing or cloth to all the Students who entered University at the latest A level exams, as well as the the best students who entered the school at 6th Grade who also happen to be students from very low income families. Do not forget that tuition in this school is completely free, a vestige of the Free Education system in Sri Lanka.

As part of my work I have looked into the budget allocations for the year for Secondary school capital construction and is less than 10% of the education budget, most of which goes to paying salaries for the approximately 220,000 teachers in the State Education sector. No wonder then that the crying need for Repair and Maintenance has to be met by private fund raising. Private schools are better able to meet this fund raising due to the better ties they have with old pupils.

I would appreciate input and comments from my readers on the following issue of “free is no good and good is not free”. I am a firm believer that when something is free it is not appreciated, and this is also true for education. Is it that as these kids do not pay for learning, they do not value their education in this school and thus do not feel a commitment to help their alma mater, or is it just that they are too impoverished to help? I do not have an answer to that, but it is worthy of debating, to know if we have not explored all the possibilities in being able to improve the quality of education with the inputs it needs for that qualitative leap.

I like to leave the reader with some thoughts and reflections of this absolutely fantastic site. It is a hugely untapped gem of a school in surroundings that I will envy for learning and playing sports. It seems so underutilized in terms of the potential, a benefactor can with complete cooperation of the government take over some responsibility, as an experiment to take this school to a different dimension using the existing pool of students that come to it, and obtain the most of these students maximizing their true potential as future leaders and a valuable human resource of our country by giving the inputs needed to create the productive human being with the tools that the country needs in the next 40 years.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A weekend youth leadership workshop at a Scout Camp in Mirigama

I had the chance recently of attending a weekend workshop of young people, male and female amounting to around 60 between the ages of 15 and 25, at a Scout Camp premises in Mirigama. It lends itself for such an event, being isolated from noise being a heavily wooded area which belies the 25 acres in extent.

It was a camp to give the young people an insight into making lifestyle decisions about what they want to do in the future and give them the tools whereby they could make these decisions. The leadership workshop was carried out by an leadership counselor who specializes in life skills identification programs. It was the most useful part of the workshop.

This was a youth camp organized by the UNP Youth Front, and contained a sprinkling of Pradeshiya Sabha Members, Provincial Councillors and Members of Parliament who gave speeches to empower the youth to the party’s history and its position within the political fabric of Sri Lanka and its aims. There were many popular misconceptions that had to be corrected. When the principles were pointed out an indication of how distorting the Media can be was apparent. Personal agendas can cloud the thinking and perceptions. Some unraveling of knots took place to put clarity into the vision.

I was not as interesting to the young audience, as many politicians do not really know how to relate to young people and address issues that are specific to them bearing in mind the life choices they have to make both at the O level and A level stage. Once finished, what they wish to do to further their lives in a positive direction. How politics relates to everyday lives and how it affects our daily activities was not sufficiently dealt with as it is an important fabric of life in Sri Lanka. Government is intrusive and affects how we are treated from law enforcement, careers and also in being able to get day to day activities performed using the machinery of the state. The challenge is in reversing this.

The most interesting aspects for the young people were the games that were set up to help with teamwork and bonding. The new friends they made was encouraging, many from nearby as it was a camp for people from just one electorate. There was a sing song by the fire, which was dampened slightly due to the rain, but it nevertheless resulted in a fun time till late into the night.

Some of the kids had never been on such an overnight camp, and it is a shame that more of these are not offered across the country to build social skills.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Duruthu Poya at Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya – a veritable light and dance show to please the senses

I was privileged to be able to attend the ceremony up to placing the casket of the sacred relics on the Temple Tusker on Sunday night. I have attended the full perahera before to watch it to the end till the early hours of the morning, but I had not seen the events leading up to the placing of the casket on the elephant before.

I was not an invitee to this event in the inner sanctum of the temple, though I had a VIP ticket to watch the proceedings. I was just a gate crasher and there was no one to stop me when I walked with an elbow crutch on one hand and a walking stick in the other!! When I walked in the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil who is the Chairman of the Dayaka Sabha was already there, as was a cousin of mine who is the chief dayakaya, actually she is the chief dayikawa and her daughter as well as the various Nilames including the Basnayaka Nilame. There were so many photographers in the inner chamber as well as TV camera men it was a hot with all the bright lights. The placing of the garlands of flowers on the casket is done here.

The papers these past days were full of photos of the event, but one photo I must allude to and which I show above is what I wish to comment on. A few minutes after me, Karu Jayasuriya came into the inner chamber right up to Ranil and was warmly greeted by Ranil before he took his place next to Ranil. I saw this as they were both close to where I was standing, just behind the front row. The camera man of the Ceylon Today group who appear to be backing Sajith Premadasa, took it upon himself to click away in rapid fire as soon as Karu J moved out after being greeted by Ranil and in that pose it shows both looking in opposite directions.

The caption of the photograph was ‘mirror moods and divergent thoughts’ as it appeared in the Ceylon Today of 10th January. Of course the reader of the paper will assume they do not talk to each other and cannot bear each other by the way the photo was depicted in the newspaper. One must realize that sometimes even the photographers tend to depict a view of a photograph that is congruent with the views of the news paper. This indeed is one, and we discussed the photographers action when we were returning in the vehicle soon after the placing of the casket, so we could get back in time for another event. Otherwise the vehicles would be stuck till the whole Perahara ended.

The presence of the colored kits the elephants were wearing and the colorful cast of characters waiting for the perahara to start is a setting one does not normally see as it is in the restricted courtyard of the temple, where few are allowed access. The lights were sponsored by the Khomba soap company and was tastefully done.