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DateLine Sunday, 17 February 2008

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The great name in Buddhist history

World history finds its greatness and attraction through the services rendered by philanthropists. A person whoever he is, achieves greatness through ideologies borne in his mind and to the extent of effectiveness and favourable consequences resulting there from.

If there was any person who was capable of uplifting the Sinhala Buddhists who were helpless due to colonial rule, although their forefathers enjoyed sublime virtues enriched with the advent of Arahath Mahinda.

His achievement in reestablishing a golden era in this country makes really great and sublime. February 17th marks the 101st death anniversary of Col. Henry Steele Olcott who was able to create history through his revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He clamoured and awakened a nation that was fast asleep without any vigour to rise up.

He was the pioneer who agitated to give due place to Buddhism and the reformer who compelled the colonial government that existed at that time to declare the Vesak Full Moon Day, a public holiday. He was the architect who designed the six coloured Buddhist flag that has gained universal recognition.

He was the pioneer who was responsible for the establishment of national schools such as Ananda College, Col. Olcott, whose contribution towards the betterment of our country nation, religion, justice and good conduct has been so great, therefore remains in our hearts forever.His motto was "The best religion is nothing but the truth".

He established the Theosophical Society at New York in America on the 17th November 1875, towards the achievements of his goal. Col. Olcott was an American.

This great child was born on August 2, 1832. As an enthusiastic scholar, his research in agriculture in particular paved the way for him to become the Head of a Department at Athens University of Greece.

However he declined to accept this honour and instead he established an educational institution in agriculture because he preferred to serve his mother country. During the American Civil War, he joined the Army and through his achievements was appointed colonel.

American government appreciated his bravery and sharp wisdom, appointed him commissioner to investigate and report on corruption in the American army. He performed this task very well.

For some time he practised as a lawyer. Although he was a Christian by birth, came across a copy of the Panadura controversy by Rev. Migettuwaththe Gunananda Thera, in Ceylon.

Through his close association with intellectuals such as Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera and Ven. Waskaduwe Sri Subuthi Thera. Col. Olcott realized the sad plight of the Sinhala Buddhists at that time. Considering the gravity of this, he thought of the need to unite and create a formidable workforce to act fast.

When we remember the fact that great schools of learning such as Ananda, Nalanda and Dharmaraja produced national leaders and also when we remember that colleges for girls like Musaeus and Viskha produced heroic mothers for the country, we can imagine that they get the blessings and grace of Col. Olcott who may be at a higher place in the universe.

Col. Olcott made every endeavour to awaken the Buddhist and to impress English rulers to prove that Sinhalese are a great race, Although he belonged to a different faith, he embraced Buddhism and Sinhala people.

Every Sinhalese in the past, present and future is indebted to him.Finally at a time he was able to see that his efforts have become fruitful, he became very happy and expressed his sentiments before chief priest Rev. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala whom Col. Olcott considered as teacher.

"Seeds have been sown. These have grown and become large trees, My dear Rev. Sir, no force on this earth or above can stop its growth and fruition in the future.


Cross - over of MPs

I would be most grateful if some of your knowledgeable readers (lawyers or constitutional lawyers) enlighten me on this.

According to the 1978 constitution under the proportional representation system in Parliament, does not the seat of a Member of Parliament becomes vacant upon his leaving his political party from which he was elected? (That is crossing from the Government side to the Opposition side and vice-versa).

To fill the vacancy thus created, the candidate from the relevant political party who secured the next highest number or preference votes shall be declared elected after one month. If that is so, why is this not strictly implemented?


Galle Fort - 38th World Heritage site - an addendum!

Although many Letters to the Editor including one in the Sunday Observer, last week, and articles have been written on the problems Galle Fort the 38th heritage site is facing, no meaningful steps have so far been taken to put an end to the destruction and deterioration that is taking place.

At least Mr. M. I. M. Mubarak's letter should jolt the authorities and the people from the slumber and apathy that we have evidenced.

The need of the hour is to put an immediate end to foreign purchase of prime, property, Galle Fort. It is akin to selling family silver for a short-sighted monetary gain.

Can a small country like Sri Lanka afford to alienate land for that matter an invaluable portion of it to foreigners?

A critical analysis of the foreign purchase of land and property in this cherished monument reveals that it has not brought any significant benefits in its wake either to the people or the country.

As we learnt hardly any purchase has been subjected to the 100 per cent levy. Moreover the foreign-run hotels and motels do not benefit the country by way of foreign exchange as we understand that they are involved overseas by the owners or their agents.

Most of the foreigners who have purchased properties do not live in the Fort permanently nor have they made any noteworthy contribution to the social or cultural welfare of the locals. The few who live there lead an exclusive and detached life from the rest of the society.

Some of the properties bought by the foreigners have been put up for re-sale. Such buying and re-sale induce suspicions of money laundering. Some houses are inhabited by only males and this creates doubts amongst locals about gay activities.

Most hotels, motels and bars have sprung up in highly residential parts of the Fort. In some cases they have been opened in close proximity to places of worship and schools. Renovations and reconstructions of buildings are carried out with scant respect for neighbours' rights and privacy.

As Mr. Mubarak rightly alleges the Galle Fort is gradually losing its old world charm in the midst of the hustle and bustle.

I conclude with the fervent hope that this and the previous letters highlighting the problem of this world renowned monument do not go unnoticed by the authorities. Let's save the only world heritage site in southern Sri Lanka from being converted into an exclusive foreign enclave.


Anomaly in BoC, People's Bank pensions

Due to the successive collective agreements the emoluments in the Banks have reached a level which has facilitated the removal of disparities in the prevalent emoluments among the different banks. These have made banking as one of the coveted professions in the country.

In this context it may be apt to point out that:

a) The Executive President and / or the surviving spouse receives the same emoluments as the retiring President.

b) Parliamentarians too have their retirement benefits revised with the revision of allowances of the current Parliamentarians. It is sufficient for both (a) and (b) to serve on term of office which does not exceed five to six years.

c) Central Bank of Sri Lanka retired employees too have the advantage of having their pension revises along with the upward revision of the salaries of the current staff.

d) In the Public Service the surviving spouse continues to receive the same pension as the deceased staff and their emoluments and pensions are revised periodically. The recent revision enables the pensioners of any vintage to receive pensions equivalent to the entitlements of those who retired in 1997. It is to be extended to the year 2000.

e) Bank of Ceylon continues to pay the variable cost of living allowance to the pensioners and absorb the PAYE tax as for current staff.

On the other hand People's Bank has frozen the cost of living allowance to the last drawn amount to those who retired after June 1996 and has passed on the PAYE tax payment to the retiree. In the People's Bank the marginal benefit of 90% gross as pension and non-recovery of the commuted pension as the incentive has been eroded and has swept away the steady pension and reduced it by as much as Rs. 10,000/- per mensem for those who retired immediately after the freeze.

f) Bank of Ceylon has increased its pension for surviving spouse to 50% whereas People's Bank continues it at 20%. However both banks are yet to emulate the State.

Tinkering and piecemeal solutions and handouts will never solve the recurrent problem faced by the Bank pensioners. Banks have to accept reality. Emolument for employees are fixed on the basis of job description, required qualification, experience and other relevant consideration.

The periodical revision of emoluments is outside this consideration. It is a question of wages chasing prices where the escalating cost of living and the erosion of the rupee value has prompted the payment of enhanced emoluments to make both ends meet. This twin adverse impact equally visits the current staff as well as the pensioners.

Therefore, we have suggested to request all the Banks to revise the pensions simultaneously with the triennial invariably upward revision of the salaries or base the monthly pension as an agreed percentage of the gross salary drawn by the current staff of similar grade, seniority and salary point.

This we feel will eliminate all inter grade, intra grade heartburns and provide a stable income envisaged and implemented in the case of the employees in other countries and selected recipients in our own country itself.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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