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4th October 1998

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Prof. A.J. Gunawardana: A rare academic

I was much saddened to hear the news of Professor A. J. Gunawardana's untimely death.

We shared interests in literature, film and contemporary Sri Lankan society. I had the opportunity of working closely with him in 1978-79 when he wrote the screenplay of Beddegama, Lester James Peries's adaptation of The Village In The Jungle, when I had the strange experience of playing the role of Leonard Woolf - in the very court room at Hambantota which he described in his novel.

Before and since, I have enjoyed AJ's quiet and unassuming company, as well as his regular newspaper column. He was a rare academic who achieved that fine balance between theoretical knowledge and practical experience. He replaced the intellectual arrogance of academia with a healthy skepticism, deep-rooted humanism and a fine sense of humour.

In his writing and public speaking, he would query, reflect or ridicule without being devastating. Part of this tolerance came from the amazingly wide array of disciplines and subjects he had mustered. He was equally at home at Shantinikethan, on Broadway and on the Information Superhighway.

And at each of these and other sources, he not only imbibed, but also contributed his unique perspective.

AJ's sudden death is a setback in our collective struggles against today's greatest evils - fanaticism and fundamentalism. I offer my deepest sympathy to his wife Trilicia and two children.

- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Douglas Senaratne: He roared against the tide

He had enriched every national newspaper in Sri Lanka and scores of journalists from all those media groups gathered at Pannipitiya yesterday to say farewell to their longtime colleague and friend Douglas Senaratne.

Douglas SenaratneThe former tough schoolboy boxer and an 'old sea dog' as he liked to call himself, Douglas Senaratne during a career spanning four decades in journalism had been everything from poet and philosopher to humorous writer and raconteur. In the last weeks and months at 'The Sunday Times', the once stormy Duggie was a quiet though solid worker in what is traditionally the last line of defence in journalism. He was assailed by illness after illness ranging from eye and lung to prostate problems and a limp. He carried a walking stick and often fell in the course of duty but he got up and kept fighting till the very end.

A paradoxical feature of Douglas Senaratne's career in journalism was his talent to write stories and poems for children.

It was perhaps born out of a deep love and longing for children because he did not have one of his own and it was the adopted Valentine who stood by his foster father in the last few days when a bedridden Duggie had to be carried even to the toilet.

The last 10 years of Douglas Senaratne's prolific and productive career were with us at 'The Sunday Times'. We enjoyed every moment of it and most of us were inspired by his wisdom and broad vision which often rose to philosophical levels. Often when we needed to be filled up with background information on current affairs we would contact the 'Senaratne encyclopaedia'.

In terms of knowledge, intelligence, creativity and imagination, Douglas Senaratne stood way above the average. Aware that laughter was a good lubricant for life, he gave it in plenty and the tea breaks at the sub-editors' desks were often enriched with humour from Duggie's files, part fact and part fiction but all very enjoyable.

One of the stories that Duggie often recalled and recounted was far more serious than a dirty joke.

It happened when Douglas Senaratne was a sub-editor on the 'Observer.' Two pictures were to appear on his page –one showing the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake with a group of leading politicians and religious prelates and the other of a heap of garbage near an entry point to the Colombo city. By some shocking mix-up the captions were interchanged and the next day's newspaper carried the picture of the Premier with the politicians and prelates but the caption said- 'This heap of garbage is the sight that greets you when you enter the city'.

If doctors bury their mistakes, journalists publish them for thousands to see. Duggie knew he was in a heap of trouble. The office was in uproar and he was summoned immediately to the board room. The Prime Minister himself was on the telephone and the editor told Duggie to answer it.

Apprehensively he took the receiver but the Premier was gracious. "I appreciate your joke but be a little more careful in the future would you," Dudley told Duggie. But the story did not end there. The editor kept up the gracious spirit and only half-jokingly told Duggie.

"You had the courage to say what I wanted to but dared not." That was the stuff Douglas Senaratne was made of, even when he blundered.

So goodbye Duggie. All good things as you often said are transient and impermanent. Often during the last years Duggie would sit with us for a sharing of ideas on why we were born, what we were doing here and where we all are heading for. Now he knows for sure.

'The Sunday Times' today joins his hundreds of colleagues, family members and friends in saying as Duggie would have liked in Shakespeare's immortal words - "Farewell dear friend, let hosts of angels sing thee to thy eternal rest in God." Perhaps Duggie would have responded in yet more inspiring lines that he loved to sing - "Through many dangers, snares and toils I have come in life. It was Grace that led me safe in life and Grace has led me home."

Saturday classes fail once again

By Nilika de Silva and Faraza Farook

A third attempts by the Education Ministry to conduct Saturday classes in schools in a bid to cover the syllabus failed again yesterday with a majority of students and teachers staying away.

Most students and teachers told The Sunday Times they could not and would not attend Saturday classes mainly due to private tuition commitments.

Teachers' Society Joint Committee leader Poliya Gunewardene called on teachers not to report for work on Saturday mainly on the basis that they worked under heavy pressure and needed to rest during the weekends.

Visakha Vidyalaya Deputy Principal said the attendance of students at yesterday's Saturday class was very low but the turn up of teachers was a little better.

At Dudley Senanayake Vidyalaya only 11 out of the 39 teachers turned up, Deputy Principal Sunil Kumara said.

At Gothami Balika Vidyalaya the students' attendance was low but about 60 % of the teachers turned up, the deputy principal said.

The Principal of Ananda College said the students attendance in the middle school was good but in the primary and Advanced Level classes the attendance was poor. A majority of the teachers, however, turned up.

An Education Ministry official said yesterday the government would not pander to the whims of teachers and would continue with Saturday classes for the sake of students because the mandatory 208 school days needed to be completed before the end of the year.

Why a snap poll? abolish the presidency, says LSSP

By Roshan Peiris

A ruling PA coalition partner has called on the government to concentrate on its commitment to abolish the executive presidency rather than going for a snap presidential election next year. LSSP leader and Minister Batty Weerakoon made the comments in an interview with The Sunday Times amidst reports that the government was planning a snap presidential election in March next year. Excerpts:

Q: There are reports the L.S.S.P is left out in the cold and not taken into the confidence of the PA?

A: Nonsense. We participate fully at all levels of the PA government. Of course, we have differences of opinion on privatisation of national assets such as the Colombo port but that does not mean that we are against the government. We have made our choice to back the P.A. and in a sense, we have no alternative as supporting the UNP is totally out of the question.

We are also opposing the extension of the emergency island-wide, but some politicians and newspapers are overplaying this and projecting it as a break-up of the PA.

Q: Does the LSSP prefer to have a Presidential or a General Election in the present political climate of the country?

A: We don't want either election at this time. After all the Presidential Election is not due for another two years.

Q: There are reports that a referendum might be held to extend the life of Parliament. How would your party respond to this?

A: A firm 'no' to any such thing.

Q: What does the LSSP think of possible talks with the LTTE — conditional or unconditional?

A: The L.T.T.E. is not ready for talks. We don't see any prospects of talks with the Tigers when they have shown no readiness for that.

The LTTE is also evasive on this issue.

Doctor you are in trouble

By Faraza Farook

Most of the doctors who qualify by the year 2000 in Sri Lanka may find themselves jobless, a health official has warned.

Dr.Lucian Jayasuriya the Chairman of the Health Management Committee of the Sri Lanka Medical Association said that according to the present projections the public health service would have no vacancies for doctors in the year 2000 if the health ministry increased the intake of cadres.

Dr. Jayasuriya said the number of admissions to medical faculties was to be increased to 900 this year from the present 800.

In addition about 500 foreign qualified medical graduates were due to return.

CWE settles wheat battle

By M.Ismeth

The CWE, has after a long battle with Customs agreed to pay hundreds of millions in accumulated duty, a Customs official said.

He said the CWE had not paid these duties since 1989 and agreed to do so in instalments only after the Customs threatened to withdraw import facilities.

The CWE imports millions of rupees worth of wheat in bulk and the wheat grain is sent directly to the Prima factory in Trincomalee from the ship. The wheat grain is milled by Prima, distributed by the Food Department and marketed by the CWE.

CWE General Manager N. U. Cooray told The Sunday Times that they had been paying the levy in instalments and it was the Customs that had delayed papers relating to payments.

The Customs investigation is being led by Suptd.U.K.M. Ismail.

Appropriation Bill this month, Budget on Nov 5

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Amidst Presidential directives for stringent financial controls to resurrect a sagging economy, the Appropriations Bill for the next financial year will be presented in Parliament later this month.

Finance Ministry officials said that since Deputy Finance Minister G.L. Peiris was out of the country the Appropriations Bill would be presented in the third week of this month and the Budget on November 5.

While Defence as usual gets a huge allocation along with ministries such as Agriculture which also get more, the allocation for the Industries Ministry is being slashed by more than one billion rupees. An Industries Ministry official said the govt. had obviously to give priority to Defence but he could not properly explain why Agriculture was getting more and Industry less.

After Defence the largest allocations are 3.7 billion for Agriculture, and more than 2.5 billion for local Government and provincial councils.

Next year's budget expenditure has been projected to be nearly Rs. 2412, billion as against the 218 billion spent this year

More miracles at Rawatawatte

With the yet mysterious vision on the wall of the Rawatawatte Church continuing into the seventh week and drawing hundreds of devotees, a two hour special healing service will be held today amidst reports of more miraculous healings.

Rev. Fr. Edward Revel, Parish Priest of the 'Queen of Angels' church at Rawatawatte near Moratuwa said the lame, the blind and other handicapped people were being invited for today's healing service.

The latest miracle reported from the shrine last Friday was the healing of a child who had a hole in the heart. Earlier two cancer patients - an Airforce officer and a lady doctor - testified they had been healed. Testimonies of healings were also given by people who suffered from diabetes, kidney and other ailments.

Fr. Revel said today's healing service would be held with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from which bright rays of light had flashed on August 16th to leave an imprint on the wall. Most devotees say they see the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding out the Cross.

The healing service is being held amidst preparations for the Church feast next Sunday October 11. The hoisting of the flag staff took place last Thursday and Novena Masses are held daily at 6.45 p.m. The Masses on the Feast Day October 11 will be at 5.30 a.m. and 6.30 a.m. with a festive High Mass at 8 a.m. followed by a procession.

Pilot's last call: 'compression problem'

By Chris. Kamalendran

As more bodies and parts of the ill-fated Lion Air plane were recovered yesterday, the Defence Ministry gave permission for experts from a private diving firm to launch a full-scale rescue operation in the sea off Mannar.

Escorted by representatives of the International Red Cross (ICRC) the team of divers left yesterday for Iranaitivu, north of Mannar, the general area where Lion Air's AN-24 plane crashed with 48 passengers and six crew on board.

Lion Air officials said seven experts sent by the AN 24 manufacturing company in Ukraine were flying out to join the local divers in the rescue effort.

The greenlight for the private rescue operation came after Lion Air officials met Navy Commander Cecil Tissera to seek assistance in recovering the bodies, the wreckage and the black box flight recorder which could reveal what caused the tragedy.

Air Force sources told The Sunday Times yesterday the last message of the Russian pilot of flight 602 had been that the plane had developed a compression problem.

Air Force experts said a compression problem could have developed due to a technical defect, but sabotage could not be ruled out.

Meanwhile more bodies and parts of the ill-fated aircraft were found off the north western coast yesterday morning.

Ten bodies had been recovered so far while seats of the wrecked plane have also been found off Mannar, rescue officials said.

In a related development a Tamil business tycoon is planning to launch a passenger ship from Colombo to Jaffna. This comes in the wake of a government decision to suspend all private flights to and from Jaffna until further notice. Two big private operators, Lion Air and Monara Airlines, were transporting hundreds of civilians to and from the north daily till last Tuesday's tragedy.

Meanwhile six more bodies of the passengers of the ill-fated air craft was washed ashore at Ariyalai in Jaffna.

(See also Special Assignment)

Shame! Look what we're doing to our children

As Sri Lanka joined the world in celebrating Universal Children's Day, an indictment that should shame the country was handed down with the disclosure that a staggering one million children in the country are in the labour market.

Maureen Seneviratne who heads the child protection group PEACE, told a rally that as many as one hundred thousand children were used or abused as domestic servants in seemingly respectable households.

Among other areas where the crime of child labour is widely practised are the estates where hundreds of thousands of children are known to be exploited and denied their fundamental rights.

Ms. Seneviratne stressed that upto the age of 15 at least the child should be in school and not in some slave labour. To deny education to a child was a denial of the child's most important fundamental right. Without proper education the child would be condemned to be enslaved for life.

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