Aug 31

Sri Lanka collects direct taxes from the well-to-do but also far more in the form of indirect taxes that both the rich and the poor have to pay.  Waste and corruption, as estimated by independent sources, fritter away 20-40 percent of the total collectable, leaving only the balance to go into the state’s coffers.  Usually the losses attributable to these two factors can be traced to the greed of our political leaders and acquiescent administrators who unconscionably collaborate with and protect thieving party members, relatives and supporters from being investigated, charged, prosecuted and punished in accordance with the laws of the land.  However, politicians and conniving public servants are not alone in misusing the wealth that the people contribute to the nation’s exchequer.

Let us take the case of a university student.  He has already benefitted from 12-13 years of free education financed by the country’s taxpayers.  When he joins the ranks of the undergraduate world, it is by having done academically better than those who have did not have the advantages enjoyed by him by way of genetically-acquired inborn talents and the good fortune of having been able to get into a superior secondary school.  On admission to a university, he becomes the beneficiary of the huge expenditures incurred by the state in building and running the university.  The vast sums released by the treasury are invested on infrastructure, laboratories, equipment, libraries, lecture halls, common rooms, sports facilities and hostels for our universities, as well as remuneration for teaching and supporting staff, together with the provision of security, maintenance and other services. Non-competitive scholarships and other forms of financial assistance, too, are generously given to undergraduates to help them to work constructively to attain their goal of acquiring such knowledge and skills as they have committed themselves to do.

Given the high level of financial allocations required to support their studies and extra-curricular development, undergraduates may be reasonably expected by taxpayers to do their academic work in a disciplined and dedicated manner, without neglecting sports, social activities and all those things which form an essential part of university education.  If our undergraduates act accordingly, our fellow citizens would undoubtedly feel a sense of satisfaction that the taxes paid by them to the state are not being squandered at least by those who may be classified as intelligent young persons.  On the other hand, taxpayers feel badly cheated and greatly frustrated when these fortunate youngsters do not work diligently and fail to show any appreciation of their good fortune and the sacrifices made on their behalf by the people.

It would not be wrong to say that undergraduates are contractually bound to the state to make proper use of the funds spent on their behalf.  Those who do not fulfil their part of the contract entered into with the state are in gross breach of their lawful obligations. Just so that there is no misunderstanding regarding the legal position, it may be noted that the university is an institution that acts as an agent of the state to offer educational and ancillary facilities to those who are able to establish their suitability to utilise such facilities in accordance with the conditions laid down by the university.  By accepting the university’s offer, the undergraduate enters voluntarily into a legally binding contract with the university and is constrained by law to conform to the conditions stipulated in the university’s offer.

As the basic minimum, undergraduates are obligated to attend all lectures, workshops, laboratory sessions, library reference work, tutorial periods and also complete whatever other assignments are set for them by their teachers.  Subject to undergraduates meeting these fundamental expectations, the average citizen would not begrudge them their right to clamour and struggle to change those things that they believe are wrong with the universities and society in general provided, however, that these expressions of dissatisfaction are indulged in without causing a nuisance to the public or inflicting injury, damage and loss to persons and property.  However, participation in dissenting action cannot be allowed at the expense of wasting the substantial resources deployed by the state to give free university education to those who have been considered to be deserving of this privilege.  No citizen would want anyone who is paid or supported by the State, whether as a government employee or an undergraduate, to misapply tax moneys wastefully or destructively.  But is this what prevails now?

Hundreds of students from our state universities have been wantonly throwing away the precious resources that members of the public, including their own parents, have contributed, to state funds to provide every kind of facility and support for their education.  Instead of attending lectures, they have been spending their time marching, shouting, causing damage to public and private property, physically attacking law-enforcement personnel and, not least of all, disrupting the lives of thousands of members of the public by selfishly and recklessly hindering them from going to work, to schools, to hospitals and to wherever else that citizens have a right and need to go.

We have also come learn that the more prominent of these defaulting undergraduates are a few incorrigible individuals who have been on the rolls of their universities for up to six or seven years without finishing their 3-4 year courses of study.  They have neglected to honour the obligations cast upon them as members of the university.  Instead, these ne’er-do-wells spend most of their time coercing and/or threatening their more law-abiding younger fellow students to join them in frequent violent rallies and demonstrations.  It is also credibly alleged that these nihilists and their close collaborators are hyper-active members of an extremist organisation that has infiltrated and taken control of all university student unions by terrorising the undergraduate population.  Why the university authorities do not enforce their contractual rights against these delinquents is a serious shortcoming that needs to be probed, preferably by a Presidential Commission with appropriately wide terms of reference, particularly as there are allegations that the ultimate goal of these agitators is to make the country ungovernable by lawfully elected governments.

Their campaign of subjugating the student community has, for long, been deliberately started off by subjecting fresh entrants to demeaning, offensive, sadistic, sexually perverted and other forms of vicious ragging until all newcomers are made so fearful of their tormentors that the victims are driven to participate in whatever ruinous activities are organised by these terrorists.  One needs to realise that the problem is made more complex by the fact that far too many of the teaching staff have been leaders of the ragging mafia in their senior undergraduate days and are in a morally weak position to restrain those who are following their bad example – but with a far more deadly agenda.

Taxpayers are entitled to ask the government why it is spending their hard-earned money on wastrels who are not doing what they should be doing their universities.  It is, therefore, high time to decide that admission to university be made subject to unequivocally strict written conditions, rigorously enforced. The parents of a student who obtains the necessary qualifications to enter university should be informed in writing that he would have to sign a contract that sets out explicitly his responsibilities and duties to the university, the state and the public.  Failure to sign the written undertaking and significant violations of the terms agreed to would be dealt with respectively by denying entrance to the university or expulsion from the rolls of the university.  If a student has not attended the minimum stipulated number of lectures during any academic term, and has not completed his tutorial and course work assignments, he should be given a written warning that he will be barred from continuing further with his studies unless he conforms forthwith to the university’s rules regarding attendance, studies and completion of assignments.  The undergraduate’s parents, too, should be informed directly that their offspring is acting in such an irresponsible manner that he will not be allowed to continue at the university unless he begins to comply immediately with the university’s rules. The contract should specifically leave no room for the student to indulge in any form of activity that would be prejudicial to the university or the public.

What the contract document should contain is a comprehensive and explicit legal formulation of the current rules, regulations and laws, as well as new constraints on participating in anti-social or criminal activities.  Until such time as the new paperwork is completed, the university authorities must employ the powers that they are already endowed with, to ensure that public money is not wasted on non-performing undergraduates.

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