Sunday, August 09, 2015

How should we vote?

Indi had written something urging citizens to vote for good people.  Just before the last election I did an assessment of the candidates.

What we have now is something of a re-run of the same issues but with the advantage of having a short track record of the Sirisena administration to compare against Mahinda.  

Looking back at the past few months the worst fear of the Sirisena candidacy - that there would be continued dictatorial rule under a new face has not been realised. Sirisena has not abused the powers of the presidency and some powers were curtailed - despite the best attempts of the Rajapaksa camp to stymie these efforts.

While there have been problems, there is an improvement in the rule of law and governance. Sure, things are not perfect but on the whole thing have been better. Even the notorious Mervyn Silva is quiet.

In stark contrast to the presidential poll, this campaign has been the most peaceful and by all accounts the fairest in a couple of decades. The elections commissioner is asserting his independence and the candidates seem to be abiding by rules, for the most part.

At the end of the day, this is what we really need as the foundation of society: a state run on a system of law, not one run on the whims of a handful of people.

Society also seems far more peaceful; just over a  year ago we had violence in Aluthgama, but since January things have been quiet and restrictions on freedom of expression have abated. In contrast, the Mahinda campaign is playing on fear of minorities and threatens to turn the clock back.

Of course there is a great deal more to be done and the current Government is not without its flaws, but at least we are moving in the right direction.

They say the first thing to do when you are in a hole is to stop digging. The Sirisena administration may not have done a lot but least they have stopped excavating.

The Rajapaksa camp is busy organising spades, mammoties and backhoes to get back to what they know best.

The choice now is fairly clear.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

CA Sri Lanka, Audit Firms & Their Slaves - some thoughts

A former accounting trainee V Kanthaiya had written an article faulting accounting firms for underpaying their trainees and going on to describe this as modern day slavery. There is some substance to his complaint but the charge of slavery is perhaps taking things too far. Serendipity has weighed in on the side of the student, these are my thoughts on the matter. 

While there is a problem of underpayment, things have improved a great deal over the past few decades.

In my father's day one apparently had to place a bond with the firm in order to be admitted as a trainee. The bond was non refundable but the allowance paid to the trainee over the four years was equal to the value of the bond. In other words 'allowance' the students received was only a repayment of the original bond, excluding interest. In effect students had to pay for the privilege of being a trainee!

Although current allowances are still low, at least they represent actual payment from the firm and it is a big improvement on the amount of Rs300/- that was the standard starting monthly allowance twenty years ago.

I do notice that the trainees work great deal harder, much longer hours and do more demanding work (although the firms themselves take less and less responsibility-the representations made by management are now at ridiculous levels- the firms take almost no responsibility at all - almost everything is taken on the representation of the management!) The firms do not even perform the simple service of putting the accounts into the audit format, which used to be standard previously, all work is passed on to the client.

I do think the firms could increase the training allowances, at least in line with inflation; I don't think they have been revised in the last 5 or perhaps 10 years.

My bigger grouse with the profession is its hasty embrace of the ill-conceived IFRS basis of accounting. IFRS was a knee-jerk reaction to problem that was fundamentally in the sphere of economics, all that accountants needed to do was ensure better disclosure of contingent liabilities and positions held in the market. This could have easily been achieved by way of notes, there was no need to turn the fundamental basis of accounting, developed over a couple of centuries on its head.

The basic principle in accounting is the proper recording of transactions, with IFRS the accounting system records notional, unrealised gains and losses that can distort reality.

Nothing illustrates this better than the 'poster boy' for the introduction of IFRS in Sri Lanka: a certain firm called Touchwood Investments PLC.

In their eternal wisdom, the auditors and accountants of Touchwood determined that the true position of Touchwood would only be reflected by adopting IFRS methodology, which they proceeded to do with gusto, neglecting to notice the minor fact that the so called investment scheme is what is known as a Ponzi scheme.

That a Ponzi scheme could be dressed up to appear as a legitimate investment is a damning testament to the fundamental flaws inherent in IFRS.

Such is the complexity of IFRS that management and even accountants have difficulty understanding their own figures. This provides lucrative opportunities for accounting firms to sell additional consultancy services to clients, which suits the profession very well.

Unfortunately it is now deeply entrenched so no one has the sufficient incentive to unwind it, at least until the next big implosion in the banking sector.

Related Post : Touchwood - Sri Lanka's listed Ponzi scheme

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Colombo's last Gothamba Rotti cart

This evening when returning home I came across something that I had believed was extinct: a man wheeling a cart selling gothamba rotti.

Piyadasa, making gothamba rottis.

These were a familiar sight years ago, the carts would go by in the evening, 'bell' clanging. The 'bell' was not a real bell but the head of a small mammoty which would be stuck with a small metal rod to make that familiar clanging sound. There would be a sudden shout - "gothamba rotti- does anyone want?" there would be a split-second decision and someone would be sent running out to flag it down.

People would need to be quick, the carts were generally wheeled at quite a fast pace. As children my cousins and brothers would run out looking for the cart. If it had gone past we would sometimes chase it down the road, plate in hand, with someone else running behind with a bowl of eggs-needed to make the egg gothambas.

If caught in time, the owner would turn the cart in the driveway or porch of the house and make whatever rottis the household wanted before moving on.

Sometimes the rotties would be made on the side of the main road, which would attract neighbours and passers-by who would stand around waiting to place their orders. The stove in the cart had a small metal pipe attached into which the owner would blow, whenever the fire died down. As children we would eagerly take turns to keep blowing at the fire.

Although gothamba rotti is available in shops I have always preferred it from a cart, the rotti is is much lighter and crispy. The wood fire adds a distinct aroma to the rotti that gives it a unique flavour not found in ones in the shops.

I had not seen a rotti cart in years, so I stopped immediately and ordered some. Not a lot has changed from what I remember I my childhood although he has added cheese, chocolate and vegetable to the traditional plain and egg gothamba's. I seem to remember that the carts had some kind of brake but Piyadasa has improvised his own.

Piyadasa's improvised brake system

I asked Piyadasa, the owner what happened to all the carts. He says everyone he know has given up, its hard work and people prefer to do other jobs. He thinks that he is probably the last cart that is operating in Colombo.

His day starts in the morning buying ingredients and preparing the dough, which he says takes pretty much the whole day. He then sets off in the evening at about 5pm and will be on the go on until 9pm or 10pm, when he finishes his last order. Then he wheels the cart back, washes it down before going to bed.

He is based in Borella and has a few set routes: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays its Cinnamon Gardens, on the other days it is the area beyond the Borella junction, towards Cotta road. He does have a phone number: so if you can now call him up to find out where he is and try some of his delicious rottis.

I'm staying up writing this because I feel like a stuffed christmas turkey after gorging on gothamba rotti.

Piyadasa : Gothamba Rotti Cart Mobile : 0725-813-455

Friday, April 24, 2015

The BBS is a Western conspiracy

The former president has revealed that the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS), an organisation that claims to fight for the rights of Sri Lanka's Buddhists is in fact a conspiracy hatched by Western powers. It was allegedly launched by the opposition and Western powers to defeat him in the election. It is a pity that the article concerned did not get a response from the BBS spokesman to this charge, it would have been interesting.

The BBS was launched in mid 2011 but the former President called a snap election only in October 2014, two years ahead of schedule. How did those Westerners know when the election would be called?

They must have had amazing prescience, to have launched the BBS a full three years before the actual declaration of the election. The date of the election was known only to the ex-president and his astrologer. Perhaps the Norwegian's were also consulting an astrologer ?

He claims his election campaign was undone by the BBS, but then why did the ex-President, carrying all the power of the presidency fail to heed the appeals of the Muslim community and even his own ministers and do something about the BBS?

The US, one of the countries accused of sponsoring the BBS revoked the visa of  the General Secretary of the organisation Galabodaaththe Gnanasara Thero, which is a lot more than the Government ever did.

The BBS clearly broke the law on many occasions, yet no action was ever taken. He admits that he turned a blind eye to the antics of Mervyn Silva, perhaps he did so as well to the BBS.

The BBS seems to have gone underground after the election, perhaps stricken by the same mysterious forces that affected Mervyn Silva?

Update: The BBS has issued a statement urging the government not to harm Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. They claim that Chandrika Bandaranaike has some designs on Gota, which are at the behest of Western countries. Very confusing, these Western countries, no? One never knows what they are up to.
urge the government not to harm former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa - See more at:
urge the government not to harm former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa - See more at:
urge the government not to harm former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa - See more at:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gold ring worth Rs.1.8m, dropped by an MP in parliament

The Ceylon Today reported that a gold ring worth Rs.1.8m was discovered by an officer of the housekeeping unit when he went to clean the room where a group of MP's had been protesting.

It was returned to the MP, who was so grateful that he offered the ring as a gift to the housekeeper, who reluctantly accepted. The honesty of the housekeeper is commendable, behaviour we hope will be emulated by the august members who actually occupy the chamber.

Returning to the incident at hand, in the first place, what was an MP doing with a ring worth Rs.1.8m? He is clearly a wealthy man, especially since he could afford to offer it as a reward to the person who found it. What are his sources of wealth? has he made the declaration of assets, as required?

We knew that the MP's protesting against the summons issued on the former president were a rotten lot and probably corrupt to the core. If the ring was worth the amount reported the allegation of corruption may be levelled so why not dispel the allegation, follow the example of the housekeeper and go beyond the call of duty by making a public declaration of assets?


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Controlling Mervyn Silva; threewheelers and milk powder.

In an interview with the Sunday Leader, Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that he tried to control the notorious Mervyn Silva. This is entirely plausible, Mervyn Silva is a thoroughly bad hat and a public relations disaster. His maverick behaviour would certainly have been at odds with the orderly, controlled world of Mr Rajapaksa.

Yet he did not succeed, at least not entirely. Although the mind boggles at the thought, it is quite possible that without the controlling influence of Mr Rajapaksa Mervyn Silva's behaviour could have been far worse.

If the most powerful man in the country could not control him, we may conclude that Mervyn Silva was beyond any human control.

Yet something very strange has happened.

Since the beginning of this year that uncontrollable character, the man even the feared former  Defence Secretary could not control is as quiet as a mouse. He even filed a complaint exposing fraud and corruption, the act of a model citizen. Have the stars changed ? Or are unseen and inexplicable forces must at play? Otherwise what could have prompted such radical change?

Quite unrelated is the Government's attempt to curb another uncontrolled menace, the three wheelers. The Government says they must be regulated and are talking of amending the Motor Traffic Act and setting up a regulatory body.

Why do they need to look so far?

The first step is to start enforcing the Highway Code and root out the corruption in administering the driving test so that at the very least people getting licenses know the road rules. I never understood this business of cheating at the written exam of a driving test. The rules and signs are simple and things we have been taught from school, why does anyone need to cheat?

The retail price of milk powder is set by the Government, the Sunday Times wonders why prices have not fallen, despite a 43% decline in world market prices. What is interesting here is the level of tax: working from the figures quoted in the article Government taxes amount to at least 55% of the raw cost of milk. Apart from the tax, the article explains the reasons for the stickiness in prices:

"price-regulation that is wildly disproportionate to the highs and lows of the international market. “The prices are controlled by the Government in order to prevent excessive volatility affecting consumers,” said Deshal de Mel, economist".

“When prices increase significantly, the companies have to take a hit,” he explained. “On the flip side, when prices are dropping, you need to compensate the companies by allowing them to make some profit which, at such a time, would be at the expense of the consumer.”
This would be a good time to remove the price control on milk powder, there is probably room for prices to fall and if companies are certain that they will not be forced to sell at losses if prices rise they should be quite willing to cut prices.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why nations must remember

"A tombstone is a memory made concrete. Human memory is the ladder on which a country and a people advance. We must remember not only the good things, but also the bad, the bright spots but also the darkness. The authorities in a totalitarian system strive to conceal their faults, and extol their merits, gloss over their errors and forcibly eradicate all memory of man-made calamity, darkness and evil. For that reason, the Chinese are prone to historical amnesia imposed by those in power. I erect this tombstone so that people will remember and henceforth, renounce man-made calamity, darkness and evil."

Yang Jisheng, Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962

I have just started reading this book, the first Chinese account of Mao's Great Leap Forward. As a member of the Communist Party and a long standing journalist with China's Xinhua news agency he has used his position to collect materials from restricted archives detailing the famine.

Banned in China, the book was published in Hong Kong and has gone through eight editions in its original two-volume Chinese version. This translation is an adapted version of the two-volume Chinese original.

I also think there is a message here that all Sri Lankan's need to reflect on. We have been fed a diet of propaganda over the last decade that has seeped into the subconscious. We need stop and reflect, to start thinking again.