7 July, 2020

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Promises Made, Promises Kept – The First Instalment!

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

I have, often, been accused of pillorying the current government and not giving it time to live up to the promises made at the time it was seeking to be elected to run this country.

Well, here’s an acknowledgement of the efforts of one MP (and Cabinet Minister) Mr. Haleem who appears to have begun living up to at least one of his promises.

I am submitting three photographs with this piece which I hope the editors will publish together with the script because I believe in the old adage about “a picture speaking a thousand words!”

Just prior to the last general election in January 2015 the “locals,” myself included, organized a “Pocket meeting” to greet the UNP candidate for the area who was already a sitting member of the legislature and of cabinet rank. Mr. Haleem was, I was told, the nephew of an UNP stalwart of another generation, Mr.A.C.S. Hameed, the perhaps-unjustifiably pilloried Minister of Foreign Affairs in the J. R. Jayewardene cabinet whose initials – “A.C.S” – allegedly stood for All Countries Seen!”

Community activist, Thompson Banda, with the bulldozer operators – May 5th 2016

Community activist, Thompson Banda, with the bulldozer operators – May 5th 2016

Minister Haleem in conversation with residents requiring road access

Minister Haleem in conversation with residents requiring road access

In any event, the politico and his minions, I am sure, did not expect the active participation of the audience in the discussion that followed Minister Haleem’s speech. What we heard that afternoon could have been described as a litany of woes, stemming from lack of road access to a large number of families. Having encouraged the “locals” to voice their complaints to the candidate, it was an absolute pleasure to see them do so with only the level of constraint that kept the language used within the bounds of decency! Children having to walk three miles each way to kindergarten was but one of the complaints made, with lack of access to emergency medical assistance and other serious problems also being emphasized. I don’t think the candidate had any previous experience of that level of participation by local folk in what ended up being a forum for serious local issues, not, simply yet another mutual admiration society in action! It was crystal clear that the access issue needed to be addressed first and without further delay. Those of us who were somewhat skeptical about initiating and/or assisting this primary community action were being proved dead wrong! And I, for one, after more years than I care to recount as a community organizer and activist was, as that old saying goes, “pleased as Punch!”

Only a culvert's width separating two provinces!

Only a culvert’s width separating two provinces!

Then a few weeks ago, we heard rumours of some government functionaries surveying the footpath and road that fell within the Poojapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha boundary. Three days ago, my contact from Harankahawa village, a retired Grama Niladhari, Mr. Navaratne told me that a piece of wheeled heavy equipment with a large grader blade had begun clearing the way from above. The day following, the beginnings of a roadway were cleared from the lower end, only a small stream requiring a bridge or culvert separating the two. I did have the opportunity of thanking the equipment operators and one of the local activists who’d worked so hard for this “miracle.” The icing on the cake for me was the fact that a good part of the new road was in fact cleared in the “bad old days before Hector Kobbekaduwa’s land reform” by the writer, as part of an agricultural development initiative that was stopped by a Kandyan without even a bean plant in his backyard to his credit! Historical vindication of even a minor nature which was reinforced as these old bones moved slowly up the “new” road a day prior to this piece being written!

All of the preceding notwithstanding, the completion of this work, inclusive of the length of road below where the bulldozer’s impact is seen, is going to be a huge task, requiring the cooperation of local people, the political apparatuses at several levels and the technical folk who have, ultimately, to deliver the goods. What is particularly pleasing, though, is that it has proved to poor, previously disenfranchised rural folk that, if they work together, they can move the proverbial mountains!

Another meeting of all the players, of necessity including the Ministerial entourage (!), will, it is anticipated, be necessary to keep the project on track and the wheels have already begun to turn in that respect.

What many of us politically-jaded folk have been heartened by is the fact that there are still politicians who listen and act on issues of this kind that are not particularly “glamourous.” There is also going to be a “down side” to this equation in that increased traffic on a rural road will be a necessary concomitant of the initiative. However, in the matter of the greater good of the greater number, all of that fades into insignificance. Minister Haleem, we thank you for your quiet and unobtrusive contribution to what has been achieved so far, something that succeeding governments could have achieved (and didn’t!) over nearly half a century. All of the congratulations and thanks aside, let me also convey the sentiments of those around here, that we won’t allow you off this particular hook until the road connecting Harankahawa in the Central Province meets Metibokka in the N. W. Province on Highway A10 and, most important thereafter, is maintained in a manner befitting a “main road” and not allowed to go to rack and ruin as so often happens with so many “political” roads!

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    [Edited out]

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    Emil,

    Now that you have the ear of the minister, you should prevail upon him to ensure whatever road that is built, it is done properly. One glaring failure of the road network in Sri Lanka is the lack of proper drainage on road surfaces. It is the retention of water on roads that leads to their breakup within a couple of years. Any properly constructed road needs concrete drains, stabilized road shoulders and accurate sloping of the surfaces. Although these are pretty basic stuff, very few rural roads in Sri Lanka are built accordingly.

    Resurfacing of roads in Sri Lanka happens, on average, within five years. And that too when the surface has deteriorated considerably. In developed countries (and also in countries like Brazil and China), roads need resurfacing only once in 25 or 30 years. That is how long a road surface lasts if the road is built correctly and there is proper drainage and regular maintenance thereafter.

    Resurfacing costs about a third of what it costs to build a road from its foundation. Sri Lanka spends heaps to resurface road – which the previous government did with gusto! Why? Because there is money to be made in awarding periodic resurfacing contracts!

    In fact our GDP “growth” in the past decade or more was partly due to the monies wasted which has not contributed anything to the country’s development.

    I once asked an engineer involved in road “maintenance” why money is not spent on drains and why surface cracks are not sealed regularly. His reply was illuminating of the curse that has befallen our country. According to this engineer, awarding of resurfacing contracts provide periodic “bonuses” from the politician down to the overseer at the bottom! The Pradeshiya Sabha members thrive on these contracts. The quicker the breakdown of a road, the richer these parasites become. Some politicians use part of the bribes to fund future political campaigns! And so the cycle perpetuates.

    Road maintenance is mainly a matter of (1) ensuring that no water retains on the road surface by having proper drainage and (2) sealing up surface cracks as soon as they appear.

    Road authorities should appoint a “Marga Niladari”, like the “Grama Sevaka Niladari”, whose entire responsibility would be to ensure the road surface is clear of water all the time, the drains on the side are flowing and, most importantly, all surface cracks are sealed as soon as they become visible and not allowing such cracks to develop into pot holes. Appointing one such “niladari” for every couple of kilometres of road would save millions, provided the person does the job diligently. In a country which has a huge problem of underutilization of labour, such employment will be a boon.

    Perhaps you, Emil, will ensure the roads built in your area are done to modern standards and maintain effectively. Proof of this is if the road last 25 years at least before it becomes necessary to resurface.

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      Ken, your writing reads strangely similar to the writer’s own writing.

      Do you happen to come from Galagedara area by any chance, and do you know whether a Belgiq land thief named Benjamin who was sowing wild oats in the area your (illegitimate) ancestor?

      Keen to know.

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        Hakim:
        I don’t, unlike you, hide behind pseudonyms and you better get your facts straight as to my ancestry even if you can’t trace yours.
        Just for the record, my father was not “Belgiq” whatever that is, if such a nationality even exists.
        “Free speech’ for the likes of your seems to constitute a licence for print pollution.
        Fortunately, most people who read CT are decent human beings not given to the kind of abuse that the descendants of usurers indulge in!

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          Emil,

          The likes of “Hakim” (and many other commentators of CT) provide material for study and understanding of how Sri Lanka’s public education failed the country. Perhaps it is also a good source material for the study of mass psychology.

          It is this kind of rot that the education system has produced – people who are cowardly and not being able to contribute anything meaningful to any discussion.

          No wonder why we elect so many rogues and idiots into the parliament.

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            Agreed ‘Ken’.

            Cowards like You, Spring Koha, Bummarasiri, and 1000 other commentators are the living proof of what you are saying.

            If you like, we can send the proof in the form of IP addresses we have in our possession, with a code breaker.

            Shiting in your pants now?

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      Ken Dharmapala:
      I cannot agree with you more on the subject of drainage of and surface maintenance of roads.
      If fact, I have, on more than one occasion, taken PHOTOGRAPHS of the damage that ensues once precipitation is simple allowed to flow along newly (re-) constructed roads. To absolutely no avail. I hope I will have more luck with this Minister than I have with one of his colleagues, Sarath Amunugama, whose minions have turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of the residents served by that part of the same road running through their jurisdiction.
      The kind of practical and technical knowledge you bring to this discussion needs to be rammmed down the throats of those who could make a positive contribution to this discussion.

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      Ken,

      “I once asked an engineer involved in road “maintenance” why money is not spent on drains and why surface cracks are not sealed regularly. His reply was illuminating of the curse that has befallen our country. According to this engineer, awarding of resurfacing contracts provide periodic “bonuses” from the politician down to the overseer at the bottom! The Pradeshiya Sabha members thrive on these contracts. The quicker the breakdown of a road, the richer these parasites become. Some politicians use part of the bribes to fund future political campaigns! And so the cycle perpetuates.”

      Thank you for this simple explanation that makes sense.

      If a road is paved with (partly) foreign money (ADB, WB, donors etc) in the first place why is the work not done properly? Do even they accept the lowest bid of low quality?

      Is it acceptable and legal that in addition to funds from the PS (=central government) and foreign agencies even the families living next to a road have to contribute to the paving of a road?

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    This picture surely tells a thousand words if not even more.

    And it is what is happening under this Yahapalanaya.And it is going to get worse.

    Look at Poorten’s new mate’s guts , and his Police escort and the ” Aiya or Thambi in between in the background.

    And compare them with the poor natives, who are only skin and bone, .

    Is Megapolis going to improve the living standards of these people? and make them put on some fat at least on their bones?.

    After the 30 year Thamil Terrorism, kept these areas isolated thanks to Mr Pirahaparan and the Diaspora,, the urgent need was s a targeted, essential needs focused development program to lift the living standards of these poor inhabitants.

    Previous Government was on its way to achieve that after developing major Infrastructure like Power and access roads and schools.

    But the UNP , Diaspra and the West destroyed it all for the sole purpose of giving Vellal Taamils ,the Homeland which Pirahaparan couldn’t get after forcing these inhabitants to wilderness for three decades.

    First 15 Months of Yahapalana has been all about how to Save Sira’s ass , destroy the SLFP and consolidate Batalanda Ranil’s UNP hold on Government.

    If this Mr Minister here builds a decent road ,it has to be acknowleged.and appreciated.

    But is that going to make these people reach even quarter of the GDP per capital, which Batalanda PM is promising in 2023?.

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      K.A. Sumanasekera:
      Don’t you ever tire of writing gibberish? As for “guts” and “thambis:” your language speaks for itself. Also, you might note that the policeman who is next to the Minister in the picture is not “packing heat,” certainly not the kind of assault weapon that army personnel (how many HUNDRED?) around our previous President/your patron did!
      Somebody really needs to nominate you for a Ig-Nobel Prize” because any one, leave alone a whole selection, of your boot-licking prose should qualify you for one.
      TTFN.

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    It was Nirmala Kannangara and next will be you for that coveted award.
    What roads you people are talking/ Our road works has come to a standstill for the last 15 months.

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      Thondamanny:
      Just for the record, why don’t you drop by and have a look-see?
      Is it a serious malady among those writing “criticism” in CT to COMPLETELY ignore fact?

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    Mr Pooten,

    Thambi is Malli and Gut is Girth,according to my elders.

    No big deal they reckon..Don’t know why you get so upset.

    Anyway why do they need even Batons now.

    Police is UNP, Tigers and their Cheer Squads are all with the UNP .

    Who are they going to shoot and baton charge, except the poor donkeys in our Unis, who went on pelapaliya ( procession )to get Batalanda Ranil and Bodhu Sira in, to give you Yahapalanaya.

    Talking about girth, you should have seen how that fat boy Minister flayed you new mate, the good Minister’s thambi, the pure bred UNPer, Mr Marickkar.

    The fat boy ripped in to Marrikkar big time, even accusing him of protecting Drug Dealers and Book Makers .

    I mean both those items are Haram for Muslims. Right..

    And the Fat Boy would have got a Fatwa in other countries like India.

    Fat Boy Minister who joind the UNP only 15 months ago must have a lot of clout in the party now.

    Otherwise how can he get away with it?.

    Unless the Wniskey Madam has given special instructions to cousin Batalanda Ranil to protect him at all cost, for obvious reasons.

    • 1
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      Sumaney:
      When are you going to accept the fact that gibberish cannot transform itself into comprehensible language no matter how often it is repeated? Oh, but then, your patron’s close affiliation to Sajin Vaas was, apparently based on the latter’s command of the English language. Need one say more about birds of a feather flocking together, whether “thambis” or otherwise?
      However, I do recall an expression that would fit your verbal diarrhea: “potty mouth.”

  • 0
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    A refreshing change to see that things can ‘happen’ – given time.

    Yes, there are still people trying to do what they were elected for, and maybe the word will get around that serving the people will get one noted, for all the right reasons.

    Trusting that this is start is not a flash in the pan, and the outcome will be as wished for.

    ps: predictably the boo-boys will make their appearance, come what may. What to do.

  • 0
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    Emil,

    “Minister Haleem, we thank you for your quiet and unobtrusive contribution to what has been achieved so far, something that succeeding governments could have achieved (and didn’t!) over nearly half a century. All of the congratulations and thanks aside, let me also convey the sentiments of those around here, that we won’t allow you off this particular hook until the road connecting Harankahawa in the Central Province meets Metibokka in the N. W. Province on Highway A10 and, most important thereafter, is maintained in a manner befitting a “main road” and not allowed to go to rack and ruin as so often happens with so many “political” roads!”

    I wish to thank you Emil and the others for what you have achieved and the promise to continue.

    Some weeks ago I posted here different ways to complain to the president. Unfortunately my attempt to contact him using the web form has not been successful due to a “server error” that appears to be permanent. I mailed my complaint but have not received any kind of acknowledgment. My next step will be an old fashioned letter to box 123!

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