Sep 28

                                           

The private sector evaluates the applications made by job-seekers by checking whether they have the skills which will enable them to contribute to the organisations’ growth, image and profitability.  Two of the more desired accomplishments it looks for in candidates are a reasonably good knowledge of English and of IT.  Those who are not proficient in these subjects are forced to find less congenial employment or even remain unemployed for long periods.  Of course, if they are graduates, they usually know how to organise noisy demonstrations which embarrass the government into giving them jobs created for the purpose, with no resultant increase in productivity or quality of service to the public; but those who fail to get into university are often left in limbo.

In these circumstances, it was heartening to read, on 19 September 2007, in a short news item hidden away in a less than prominent position in one of our national newspapers, that the Ministry of Higher Education plans to conduct Year 14 classes in English and IT, wherever possible, for those students who are waiting for their Advanced Level Examination results.  This is an excellent idea, which should have received more publicity, so as to encourage the Ministry of Education to implement it.  As this has not happened, we call upon all parents whose children are in Years 12 or 13 collectively to address urgent petitions to the Ministry of Education requesting that this proposal be implemented speedily.

The really good feature of this proposal, if and when it is put into effect, is that it would benefit both those who eventually pass the Advanced Level Examination as well as those who fail to do so.  The skills and employability of both groups will have increased.

Sep 25

The war drums are presently being sounded increasingly more stridently against Iran, just as they were in the months preceding the attack a few years ago on Iraq, which was falsely accused of having developed weapons of mass destruction. It is reported that, to date, more than a million Iraqis have been killed, over four million displaced, and that the direct costs of the war to the US alone exceeds US$453 Billion.  However, as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the main effects of the Iraq war are the accompanying increase in the cost of oil, the decrease in the exports of tea to Iraq, and the loss of employment to thousands of Sri Lankans, who would otherwise have gone to work there.

This time Iran has become the target of the US, France and Israel, in particular.  If things turn violent, which seems to be very much on the cards, there is no doubt that the consequences for Sri Lanka would, in this instance, be far more serious than in the case of Iraq.  If, as is strongly suspected, Israel is encouraged and assisted to attack Iran on the grounds that the latter poses an imminent, high-level threat to the global nuclear weapons balance and international stability, and the estimated 2,000 identified, critical targets within Iran are hit, the general expectation is that Iran would retaliate, inter alia, by blocking the shipping lanes through which a huge proportion of the world’s oil is transported.  If this happens, we believe that Sri Lanka would be cut off almost completely, if not altogether, from our present supplies of oil.  Can Sri Lanka survive such a calamitous turn of events or will we be shoved back to the Stone Age?

Has the government appointed any experts to study this not-to-be-ignored scenario and how does it propose to deal with the chaos that is bound to follow?  What risk assessment has the Foreign Ministry made in this regard?  Will the almost insolvent Ceylon Petroleum Corporation be given access to enough resources to purchase extra oil to form a buffer stock before hostilities commence?  Can this oil be stored in the Tank Farm at Trincomalee or even somewhere overseas where there is excess storage capacity?  The public is entitled to know how the government proposes to deal with the eventuality that we foresee.  The authorities must take the public into their confidence on this grave issue.

It will be some years before coal-burning Norochcholai comes on stream.  There will be increasing international pressure on developing countries to abandon recourse to any more coal power plants whilst the developed countries continue to pollute the atmosphere on the present colossal scale with their existing plants.  Developed countries will try to push us towards natural gas and nuclear power, where we will become dependent yet again on someone else to supply us with the raw fuel and single-source equipment and spares.  Therefore, even though the unit cost of electricity generated by alternative sources may well be much higher in the short term, there is a strong case for developing these sources, which will not require the import of any raw fuel and save us from commercial blackmail by the sole suppliers to whom we would be tied technically and contractually.

In our considered view, the government should immediately set up several permanent specialised expert technical committees to study in detail such alternative energy sources as micro-hydro, wind, photovoltaic, hydrogen from solar, direct thermal solar, dendro, wave power and hot dry rocks, none of which requires the import of fuel.  These technical committees should have members from academia, the relevant government departments, industry, banks and the professional institutions.  Most importantly, the Ceylon Electricity Board and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation must be strongly encouraged to Athink outside the box, not concentrating solely on the price per unit of energy or only on those sources with which they are currently familiar but also at the many other important factors which will, in the long term, ensure that Sri Lanka will not be buffeted uncontrollably by events outside our shores.

Sep 12

Having considered, from a common sense point of view, what the likelihood would be of the LTTE targeting the various persons on whom the government is currently spending vast amounts on security, it strikes us that those who decide upon the level of protection required in each case should, perhaps, have a fresh look at the whole matter.  Whilst there is no question that there are several key figures, political and administrative, on whom the LTTE would consider it worthwhile to expend the resources required (including suicide bombers), most of the others who are currently being provided security are actually assisting the LTTE, albeit unwittingly, by bringing the government and the State into such disrepute that it would be counterproductive for the LTTE to harm them in any way.

The more extreme elements of those who are being protected serve grea

tly to help the LTTE by creating widespread adverse international condemnation of Sri Lanka’s perceived unwillingness to settle the ethnic conflict peacefully.  One is inclined to think that the LTTE would not want to harm such persons in any way.  Then there are those who indulge in or encourage open corruption.  Their behaviour causes progressively increasing disaffection among the public against the powers that be and, hence, might well be considered by the LTTE to be most useful allies in weakening the state.  Moreover, judging by the numerous letters to the newspapers on this subject, one is forced to conclude that the arrogant and inconsiderate manner in which most security personnel look after and escort their charges on the public highways is causing a great deal of anti-establishment feeling.  Here again, the damage caused to the government far exceeds any benefit that accrues from the security provided.  It is obvious, to us at least, that a decrease in the total number of security personnel deployed overall would significantly reduce friction with the public.

As for the misuse of state security to protect the incorrigible offspring of those who do nothing for the country, it is time that President Rajapakse gives his mind to the matter.

On the other hand, the study of security requirements should look into the safety of two particularly valuable groups – whistle-blowers and media personnel.  These two highly endangered groups, particularly in those sectors which have been subject to threats, physical attacks and even death in recent years, require urgent and special protection.