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DateLine Sunday, 9 September 2007

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Citizens' Charter to prevent delays in govt offices

It is a welcome move on the part of the Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister to propose to introduce the Citizens' Charter to uplift the deteriorated public service and prevent bureaucrats indolence so that the people will get a better service.

I also wish to draw the attention to the Establishment Code;

Chapter XLVII, Volume II, 1;8 under the heading "Courtesy to the Public" An officer must be courteous towards the public and readily assist all persons visiting public offices on business. An officer should always be polite in his official acts and correspondence.

Chapter XXVIII, Section 3;8 under "Official Correspondence in Government Offices". Any communication received from a member of the public or another Government Department should be replied promptly, in cases where it is not possible to send a formal and accurate reply immediately, an interim reply should be sent within one week of the receipt of the communication.

However, the final reply should be sent within 4 weeks. It is well-known that there is no courtesy or politeness in government offices from the grassroots level to the apex but deliberate violation of the Establishment Code reigns supreme.

May I wish to draw the attention speech to the Ombudsman at a seminar on August 8,2003 on the "Blight of Official Apathy", the bitter truth through his experience. "The Supreme Court has on numerous occasions stated that the principle of equality enshrined in Article 12 of the Constitution is a necessary corollary to the concept of the rule of the law.

The powers vested in public officials are held in trust for the public to be used for the benefit of the public. Public officials are required to maintain minimum standards of fairness and accountability.

There is no such thing as unfettered discretion in public Law. Fairness requires public officials to be open and give reasons for their decision.There are instances to illustrate that public officers do not act that way causing hardship to members of the public.

There is reluctance to admit mistakes; a particular department which was well aware of the mistake made, had not taken steps to rectify it, despite successive appeals over a period of five years; this has caused years of un-necessary delay and loss of income over that period could have been avoided had the authorities adopted a more sympathetic attitude.

Therefore, similar to the task of Hercules cleansing the Augean Stables, a task has fallen on the shoulders of the Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs to cleanse the Augean Stables of the public service which is un-doubtedly deteriorated, where the bureaucrats are ruling servants, a wart on the nose of the society.


Astrology in our lives

It is during examinations that our astrologers come into their own. Magazines, newspapers, radio, TV give them prominence and room for their predictions, with advice on how to entice fortune's favour in your direction.

Students are asked to perform all manner of rites and rituals to pass with flying colours! Advice on how to retain what is learnt to come out bubbling in the examination hall is mostly ignored.

The emphasis is on dependence (this being Sri Lanka) on the Hindu gods, Ganesh and Parvati, to make things right. These two divinities are drawn, willingly or unwillingly, under the benevolent shade of the Bodhi tree to stand in line of worship of the devotee, after recital of the Buddha's supramundane qualities, for which the Bodhi pooja was invented, with relevant meditation on him, now hardly attempted.

Astrologers impose their Hindu influence on all, eagerly lapped up by our "Buddhists", especially parliamentarians, who dare not open or close a door without the nod of their soothsayer.

Every parliament opens to "nekath" time and recently one even closed abruptly to the same tune; coconuts are dashed defiantly in all kovils islandwide; worship and placating of gods of every faith happens around the clock in bizarre fashion, although prohibited by the Buddhist faith, which they profess to follow; not to mention the periodic dashes across the Palk Straits for lucky talismans and tips on more blind faith tactics.

This combination of Buddhism which is "to see things as they truly are" and blind beliefs can turn deadly, as pointed out by psychiatrists, dealing with mental patients struggling to blend the two in their heads.

Is it then fair to inflict this predicament on our growing children? The moves to substitute a picture of Sariputta Thera, the Buddha's chief disciple, on the students' desks did not quite succeed, with their parents superimposing pictures of the favourite Hindu deities up front.

It is of his chief disciple that the Buddha once remarked, "Wise art thou, Sariputta, comprehensive and manifold thy wisdom, sharp and fastidious, joyous and swift"!

Coupled with his unique moral stature of Arahant, the final sanctity, could there be another, more worthy example for Buddhist children to follow, at examination or any other time?

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