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Tales Of A Paradise Lost With Rajapaksas And The “Raja-pakshas”

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Monday, 15 August 2011 07:38 No Comment]

The Ministry of Finance and Planning (MF&P) published a neat, large and a colourful book, detailing all its achievements in the yesteryear, titled Annual Report – 2010.

This comprehensive report talks of a steady increase in salaries over previous years in all sectors.

3.3 percent in the state sector, 41.6 percent in the agriculture sector, 7.1 percent in the industrial sector and 8.2 percent in the service sector – a record drop in unemployment to the lowest ever that is 4.9 percent, labour productivity increasing by 6.6 percent over the previous year achieving a per capita value of Rs. 343,000 in a grand performance with the Rajapaksa regime providing employed labour: the distinct advantage of a “National Productivity Policy”, “Sri Lanka Policy on Gender Equality”, “National Policy on Employment” and a “National Policy on Decent Work”. This is Rajapaksa regime’s “monumental” feat in taking care of its people.

This Annual Report – 2010 also claims, the Rajapaksa regime has since 2005 increased the total allocation on health by 67 percent, from Rs. 46 billion to Rs. 77 billion in 2010. It says the percentage of total vehicle registrations in 2010 shows an increase of 10 percent providing the commuter with a better choice in both public and private transport and indirectly a certification of increased incomes. Enrolment for secondary education has gone up to 99 percent from 95 percent in 2005, while IT literacy has gone up to 20.3 percent from 9.7 percent in 2005.

Can any trade union complain now? Any employee or any citizen, for that matter? This Sri Lanka now, has certainly got to be a better paradise than the Paradise Isle Anton Chekov wrote about to his friend in July 1890, after visiting Ceylon.

There is another story that defines the state and quality of this Paradise Isle, from outside the MF&P, lived by the people and not by the report. At a function that renamed the Angoda Mental Hospital as National Mental Health Institute on July 20, Minister Maithripala Sirisena said, “The biggest challenge in the health sector today, is minimising the number of patients seeking medical treatment for mental and physical illnesses.” The numbers seem too big for the Sri Lankan population and too heavy for health facilities to cope with.

Minister Sirisena complained that officers and politicians do not perform their duties with responsibility. Increased allocations apart, the O.P.D and all clinics of the Embilipitiya base hospital have been closed. There are reports on drug and equipment scarcities in most hospitals, especially in rural areas. At the National Cancer Hospital in Maharagama, patients were required to buy a very expensive drug privately, while a large stock of the same drug was in store. Minister Sirisena himself revealed at the 11th anniversary of the MRI that top officers at his health ministry had imported a drug that is banned from use by the WHO. This he said, would now have to be destroyed. The cost to the people, is in billions of rupees.

The healthcare mess

The fact remains that despite this minister’s public statements, so far no serious steps to curb waste and corruption in his ministry and punish culprits have been taken. That makes all those allocations with a 67 percent increase the MF&P talks proud about, absolutely meaningless to the citizenry.

In post-war Vanni areas too, the whole referral system in health care is still in a collapsed state, two years after the war. Public health promotion, poor health information system, scarcity of medicines, shortage of trained community health staff; all have a very adverse cumulative impact on the lives of those displaced, who are said to have been “resettled”.

Within such breakdown of health facilities and services, the problems of child malnutrition which is now extremely acute in war affected areas, with over 40 percent of children estimated to be “wasted, stunted and below average weight for the age”, and also that of maternal malnutrition estimated to have gone above 55 percent, is yet to be seriously addressed in post war development. Worst is that there is no apparent interest shown by any in the regime, in seriously addressing any of those issues.

The education mess

Education fares no better. The system of school admissions for grade one, is based on totally false documents that most parents, principals and education authorities know quite well about. Proof is in the number of school vans and buses that ply morning and noon to these schools and back from far off towns like Aluthgama, Avissawella and Gampaha, while admissions are strictly from resident parents within 50 or 100 metres from the school walls. Almost every year, these same addresses have children admitted to grade one.

Beginning with these bulk “rogue” admissions to schools, the whole education system is in a mess, with no quality and focus in service delivery at any level. Teaching has no quality and knowledge improvement systems any time after appointment, till retirement. Schoolprincipals are appointed on political and kinship affinities and affiliations. Universities are also political waste dumps with the very University Act violated and no academic association challenging it. Most academics have fallen to politicking and a majority of the graduates they turn out, have no employment quality the corporate sector could accommodate, compelling these graduates to protest in front of the Fort railway station, demanding government jobs.

Desperation

The rest que up for employment anywhere, as they did last Monday. The old Havelock Road, now turned into Sambudhwa Jayanthi Mawatha was a youthful storm with over 15,000 scrambling to register for any job available in South Korea. Previous ministers in charge of foreign employment since 2006 are all accused of swindling money from these Korean employment opportunities. This time 42,000 youth have registered for Korean employment and the full day long stampede along Police Park, speaks how desperate the youth are. The 2010 Report’s claim that unemployment has dropped to 4.9 percent, a historic achievement; is given a thorough beating by the youth, all A/L qualified and stampeding for any menial job in SouthKorea. Unemployment in youth between 15 to 24 years is at 18.1 percent. So is this claim of salary increases in high percentages?

The harsh reality

The Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) says, a family of four members needed a monthly household income of Rs. 32,446 to live an “average life” in 2009 which is no luxury life and certainly does not even include a motor bicycle of their own. In urban areas, this living income was Rs. 44,845 and in the Western Province it was Rs. 43,275. Today, this required household income can not be anything less for sure.

Anyone’s guess what the FTZ apparel (garment) industry worker gets as take home pay, after working overtime each day and on all seven days of the week? These sweatshop girls don’t get anything more than Rs. 13,000 per month, any time in their working life.

What is the salary offered to a graduate teacher? The initial salary of a graduate teacher as a grade 3-1 appointee is Rs. 14,135. After 35 years of service, given the teacher gets promoted through Class 2 grade II and Class 2 grade I and then to Class I, he or she would enjoy a salary of Rs. 30,030. That’s 35 years from now. What is the percentage salary increase the MF&P is bragging about, for the public service? It’s 3.3 percent annually. That would have been an addition of only Rs. 466 per month.

There is yet another important and seldom talked about issue by the government and the main trade unions. All employees, both public and private sector, have to be paid a “cost of living (c.o.l) allowance” for every index increase in the “Colombo Consumers’ Price Index”, which value has to be gazetted. This was initially calculated at Rs. 02 per index increase, based on the 1952 CCPI. The C&SD thereafter revised the CCPI in 2002 to make it more realistic and the value of every single index increased, went up to Rs. 67.50. Thus if the CCPI had gone up by 50 indices, then the c.o.l allowance had to be Rs. 67.50 x 50 and some private companies paid their employees according to that formula.

In 2009 this value went up to Rs. 188 per index increase, but no company pays it. Not even the government. The Employer Federation now wants it gazetted to adhere to, claiming it’s not legal without a gazette notification. The Ministry of labour says its not their responsibility to gazette and has passed it on to the MF&P for gazetting. Meanwhile, CCPI has gone up again and the c.o.l allowance has to be now Rs. 235 per index increase. The MF&P does not gazette these values and no employee, public or private, is paid what is actually due. This in a country, where 63 percent of the women workers in the Katunayake FTZ suffer from anaemic conditions, according to Dr. Nanayakkara’s study for the “Industrial Safety Project” of the Labour Department in year 2009. Anaemic, because they can not afford even an average human life.

This in a country, the Rajapaksa regime is accused of mega corruption, huge waste and unprecedented plunder. Where “heir-in-making” ravages a world recognised unique bio diversity pool, the Sinharaja forestry and contracts three fly over bridges to his district kingdom. This in a country where State land is sold or leased at will and no accurate information is available even for a parliamentary discussion. This in a country where Commissions appointed have never made any of their reports public so far, whether on corruption in military hardware procurements, or killing of journalists, or a FTZ worker. This in a country where crime lives with impunity and professors flee the country in fear of ministers.

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