Sunday, September 30, 2012

Speeding on the Southern Highway

I was in Ahungalla yesterday on a workshop. Went there by coach but returned with a friend who had driven down. He had been charged with speeding yesterday but had been unable to pay the fine since it was poya day.

This morning we tried looking for a post office to pay the fine, but being Sunday they were all closed. Faced with the prospect of returning another day to pay the fine and collect the license we decided to talk to the policemen at the police post at the the Expressway entrance, to see what could be done.

They were sympathetic and very helpful. They said we could probably get the postmistress at the agency post office to collect the fine. One of the policeman accompanied us and we drove to the agency post office, about 10 minutes away. It was a part of a shop and while the post office was closed the shop was not. The postmistress was not around but the policeman made inquiries and a message was sent to her. She turned up shortly afterwards and took the money and wrote the receipt for the fine.

We returned to the police post, handed over the receipt and collect the license. My friend offered the policeman who accompanied us some money for his assistance but it was refused.

All in all, a surprisingly good experience.

ps. The speed camera's are not automatic they are manually operated. They are usually stationed around the overhead bridges or where there is shade. They usually impose a fine only if the driver is above 125km or so.      

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why is the President missing the UN General Assembly?

It is reported that President Rajapaksa will not be attending the UN General Assembly this year but no real  explanation has been offered. People, including myself, often think that nothing much happens at the UN summit but Yahoo News offers six good reasons why this summit is worth watching.

Regardless of anything else, it is the main meeting of the UN and many world leaders will attend. Judging by past behaviour, the President himself attaches huge import to the meeting, he has never missed one before and his address to the UN GA is widely reported and closely followed in Sri Lanka. The official statement that "this is not the first time, previous Presidents like J. R. Jayewardene and Chandrika Kumaratunga had also sent representatives to address the UNGA” does not ring true.

This raises the obvious question: why is he missing it this time around? The President is always keen to raise the country's profile and project its 'soft power' and has traveled extensively to further this cause. Earlier this year he attended the UN conference on Sustainable development in Rio and also took time to visit Cuba. Pictures show a smiling President chatting with various world leaders.   

Has the relationship with the UN soured since then or is he in ill health?

There was the unfortunate case of the UN resolution in March this year as a consequent of which we had the delegation from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) visiting this month. Critics seem to think that things are not going swimmingly on that front either and the actions of the Government seem to confirm this view: witness the new diplomatic strategy of opening missions in Africa and South America, with the hope of garnering their votes at the next session of the UNHRC. The country has already paid host to visits from the Presidents of Seychelles and the Maldives and the King of Swaziland, so this strategy is already in the process of being executed.      

Perhaps he is preoccupied with domestic concerns? The Provincial Council elections were just concluded and there is speculation that the Provincial Elections are only a precursor to the big event - the Presidential election. Could we be in for a Presidential election in early 2013 or perhaps 2014? Certainly the Presidential poll of 2010 was preceded by the Provincial Council elections in April, August and October 2009. As Gomin Dayasiri argues, the Provincial Council is a test bed of opinion and victory there enables the President to create a "wave" - politicians-and the providers of election funds-are keen to back the winning horse so victory at the Provincial level forms a good stepping stone to bigger things. Either way, we are in for some interesting times.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How Times Have Changed - Joseph Portelli's tribute to his father

The Australian-Maltese singer-songwriter Joseph Portelli has written a beautiful song, a touching tribute to his father who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Watch it here. And if you are as moved,  as I was, please think of other sufferers from this dreadful disease and donate to the Lanka Alzheimer's Foundation.

If you wish to buy the song (proceeds go to Alzheimer’s Disease International and national Alzheimer associations worldwide) you can do so here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fredrica Jansz, editor of the Sunday Leader, sacked

Just heard that the editor of the Sunday Leader has been sacked. The news is on various websites and is already attracting some comment. This can mean only one thing: one less critical source of information.

I have said before that I do not consider the Sunday Leader to be the best of papers but they do carry same good information. It's importance has also grown, especially with the dumbing down of previously good newspapers. The Daily Mirror is a grotesque travesty of its former self, yet, incredibly enough, is still the best English daily around. The Sunday Times has suffered less, but is palpably tamer. Even the Sunday Island, is less interesting than it was.

Worldwide people have been proclaiming the end of print media, unfortunately in Sri Lanka the new media of the internet died even before the old media.

People are going to be very hard pressed to find any information at all. Even an information junkie like me has got to trawl all over the web to find anything and most days now I simply don't have the time. It feels like playing blind man's buff, in everyday life. Or perhaps like sheep, being lead to the slaughter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Budget for 2013 commences...

As expected, the first installment of the budget for 2013 was announced at midnight yesterday. Taxes on canned fish were increased by Rs.25 per can and taxes on potatoes by Rs.20 a kg. The commodity levy now stands at Rs.50 on a kilo of potatoes and Rs.75 on a can of fish. These special commodity levies are over and above the VAT of 12%, the Ports & Airports Levy and Nation Building tax that are applied to all imports, which means the total tax is in fact a lot higher than the above figures. Customs duty, if applicable, is over and above this lot.

A spokesman claimed that this was to protect farmers but informed observers are aware that this is nothing of the sort, just another tax to feed the bloated state machinery. The Customs website has a list of the recent changes to tariffs that is worth reading, just to know how much is being extracted from consumers.

The timing was also in line with expectations, shortly after the end of the provincial council election and just before the start of the T20 cricket matches. Expect further installments of the budget around important matches. Consumers would do well to stock up on arrack, cigarettes and dry rations over the next week or two, you will save some money.

The closing line in the announcement that "the country has been reached self sufficiently in production of rice and maize and local farmers have been encouraged to provide above goods in order to meet 50% of local consumption requirements" is laughable and not just for the atrocious English.

Local maize, of inferior quality (because the climate is not right) is twice the cost of imported maize, which explains why chicken prices are so high (maize is the principal ingredient in poultry feed). Meanwhile with water diverted to feed the industrial scale maize farming (under the control of politicians who skim the profits) ordinary farmers are left without water. This is also the problem with the inefficient local sugar production (where new taxes have also been imposed, to "protect the local farmer-ie politician). The extent to which agriculture is now under the control of politicians is amazing, a worthy subject of further study.  

Analysts in the meantime will need to start the tedious business of tracking the "budget", one gazette notification at a time over the budget season, which will end in the first week of November. The second season of the " budget" starts in March or April, depending on what the sporting calendar holds and the prevalence of the long weekends. What better time to introduce a tax than when a lot of people are busy arranging a holiday?

The treasury has mastered the art of taxation by stealth, but the shroud is beginning to wear rather thin and one wonders when the public at large will see through the whole charade.

Parliament, in the meantime is fast asleep. Should someone wake them up, to remind them what their their role should be?

A key role of Parliament, and of the House of Commons in particular, is to hold the Government to account for expenditure. The Government intends to make it easier for Parliament to do so by improving the transparency and accountability of Government expenditure, in line with recommendations from the House of Commons Treasury Committee" (The Governance of Britain, Green Paper on constitutional reform, 2007)


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Telemann - Concerto for 4 solo guitars

Came across this quite by accident. The transcriptions works surprisingly well, I assumed it must originally have been written for lute, but apparently it was for the violin. Makes for very interesting listening, the ear being constantly teased by the contrapuntal textures, try it on Youtube.