Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The unsurprising allure of jobs in the State Sector and Overseas

The recent headlines of the fact that the vast majority of those questioned in the 15 to 29 age group, would overwhelmingly prefer a state sector job, and given a chance would opt for a job overseas, is not at all a surprising.

We must first understand why this is, and if the intention is to attract new job seekers to go for a private sector job, their virtue as compared with the state sector has to be evidenced by fact, and not mere innuendo.

As far back as a hundred years ago this was true, and people like one of my grandfathers from a poor family from Moratuwa, was able to marry an heiress, because he was a Civil Servant, who was on a trajectory to the top. To be fair he was one of Sri Lanka’s elite in academics and got his job on merit. Educated people in Civil Service were in big demand as husbands for wealthy families who were prepared to part with huge dowries to give their daughter in marriage. This ingrained culture has not subsided, and security of position, and pensionable at 55 are incredibly attractive reasons for preferring the state sector. If we are to change this, then we need to address the reasons. We must make the state sector less attractive or the private sector more attractive, in order to change this opinion. As for the allure of leaving the country there is little we can do to match the ambitious young person’s belief that they can only get ahead outside these shores.

Taking the point of making the private sector more attractive, if we are to increase the remuneration and benefits, it cannot be done without a commensurate increase in productivity as otherwise these companies could not survive.

The answer may lie in reducing some of the perks offered to government servants, such as tax free salaries and duty free cars. It is most absurd to offer govt doctors who also have thriving private practices, duty free cars, tax free salaries and who benefit from a totally free tertiary education. Similarly under stretched government servants are engaged in private work and businesses while working in the state sector using these resources to carry out other jobs. The propensity of state sector workers to also be involved in soliciting bribes for small favors which are part of their duties does not help. It is said that in Singapore state sector employees are paid salaries comparable to private industry, they are expected to be completely beyond reproach with no compromise on graft or inefficiency. In this sense they earn this higher salary. In Singapore’s case it is the private sector that determines the pay scales which the state attempts to match in order to attract the same caliber of person to run the various state entities.

In Sri Lanka, in contrast, the high rewards are set by the state sector in the first place, and the private sector finds it hard to compete with it. Often the competence of the state sector is questionable as some jobs are handed as political favors. So lets cut the duty free cars, get rid of the dead weight, make the state institutions more accountable and performance driven, and completely ban private work during working hours, with doctors still permitted to practice out of their work schedules as long as they do not clash with the priority being their state sector job.

Market forces should determine income levels, and not arbitrary scales that bear no relationship to competence or performance, rather merely to longevity and seniority. With regard to the complete imbalance of pay scales in the security forces, the standards should be raised so that educated, competent and career minded people are chosen, in place of anyone fitting the basics as is done now.

Another more important psychological fact is the entrepreneurial spirit should be encouraged and promoted at school. This ‘can do’ mentality will direct those away from the state sector. This is expecting the impossible as the teachers are state sector and their bias is naturally shown to their pupils. Most students have parents who are worse off than the teachers, so naturally they will aspire to be like a teacher, a secure job that is seemingly well paying, where they clock off at 1.30pm. Who wants to farm land into the night for no security? As a generalization, as private school parents are in higher income levels than teachers, their children are less likely to want to be teachers, so therein lies the contrast.

In investigating the allure of overseas jobs, there are enough reasons why this is preferred as the income levels expected are far ahead of what is available locally, and until this difference is bridged, by economic growth within the Island this magnet will still pull. It is of course a matter of time when this will be redressed and it is not worth placing too much credence here except in educating people on the differences of cost of living, and income levels, as well as savings rates of overseas jobs and some of the harsh realities associated with such migration.

In my opinion, the state sector allure is one that will stay as long as there is a class distinction, where some may believe that lucrative jobs are available to those with connections and not merit, and at least secure state sector jobs can be achieved without such. Therefore in my experience all those in lower paying private sector who have also applied for state sector employment, will take the latter when it is offered them, sometimes after years on the waiting list. This will change once the mindset changes, and some of the attractions of the state sector are reduced with the expected hiring freezes and cost cutting envisaged for deficit reduction.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Turning "words" into "deeds"

Our media is so full of plans for here there and everywhere. However the reality is just so far off their commencement, let alone fulfillment. If only 10% of the ideas and plans are implemented we will notice change. While it is not specifically the fault of the leadership who should be credited for at least coming up with the ideas for improvement, the bureaucrats who are tasked with implementing are so resistant to doing any more work than they are used to. We have to now get to that level of state sector officer and impress on them their stake in development and hold them accountable too for progress in implementation.

One is so full of anecdotes these days, as there are so many business people who are very enthusiastic to get a project started, and when they leave the office of the Minister are so glad that he is also on their side, trying his utmost to help them start their project as soon as possible. Then when it comes to meeting the Ministry officials to get all the permits and permission and go through the red tape, they are just stubborn, slow, and corrupt. If the principals rat on this to the Ministers, then these bureaucrats become even more defiant refusing to perform the necessary tasks. The Investor or entrepreneur is at a loss, as to how to proceed and in most cases gets disgusted and gives up.

The leaders have the power to cut to the chase and strangle the miscreants, and if some heads roll, others will get the message. This is an example of the arms of government being the resistance and the sooner there is less government the better it would be for growth. An overweight bureaucracy is so stifling, that we ought to make this the case for their retrenchment; namely that they are a severe obstacle.
Once the impediments to Implementation are cleared, then the tasks should be delegated and followed up by those with the appropriate skills, and the Minister to be held ultimately responsible for completion, who will only be permitted to take credit once it is completed on time. It would be nice if there are completion dates assigned to these tasks by which progress can be measured.

I am upbeat that given a good plan of action, we will be able to achieve some of the objectives that are being set. A culture of accountability, pride in performance and completion, along with incentives for early fulfillment will accelerate these plans. The inclusion of all the stakeholders into the action plan will help to give ownership of the project to all parties, so that the eventual product will be appreciated, and maintained, something which is absent when stakeholders are not involved in the implementation, and who therefore don’t have pride in ownership.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

has anybody noticed how much time ministers and their respective ministry secretaries spend at meerings with the President?

I find it absurd that the ministers and their Ministry Secretaries are constantly summoned to Temple Trees or the Presidential Secretariat at the behest of the President in addition to their duties in Parliament. It is known that the President loves a gathering and his office which is always seen in photos, is full of people as he likes all the Ministers to be present, so that decisions can be taken or rather edicts handed down. This style of management while having its pluses should not be abused in the interests of productivity, as the Ministers now have an excuse as to why they were unable to perform their duties.

Is it any wonder that the bureaucracy does not achieve much as the precedent set is not a good one to ensure productivity? In this electronic age, there are more effective means of communication that can achieve the same objective and I trust this can be pointed out in the interests of the Nation. The seat of Government is in Kotte, and President operates in Colombo, and so the added commute time and the wait for the meetings are all productive hours that are wasted.

The lack of a disaster Master Plan was evident when the President had to summon so many Ministers and departmental heads to discuss the crisis and find solutions. A Master Plan if there was one would have automatically kicked in if this sort of emergency arose, and the need for these officials to waste their time when their services were in dire need elsewhere is evidence enough that the government is very poorly organized to handle anything, not having a plan for any event.

Time Management and Productivity evaluation are critical functions which need to be looked into, and any action that is detrimental to this should be removed or reduced, even if it means gently explaining to the Boss that his style of management needs some updating in the interests of performance, which he expects from his subordinates.

Unfortunately as every one’s job is at the sole discretion of the President, no one dare confront him on this, and he may actually be totally oblivious to the cost of his actions on others. If government is by dictated by fear, then no positive outcome can arise on all the fronts that need tweaking and improvement. The fact that I have seen no observation by anyone in any place or blog means that in typical fashion, the efficiency of government is just considered to be a clash of semantics and not even addressed. I believe it is time it is addressed and pointed out as there are conscious efforts being made to improve all areas, and this is one I believe needs immediate attention.

Friday, May 21, 2010

“Deficits” lets not get too frightened by them, instead manipulate them wisely

Deficits are the words used to frighten governments to get their house in order and order harsh cuts in public expenditure in order to get in line, so international funds and borrowings with strings attached can be obtained to live another day!!

The US is running a wildly extravagant budget deficit, which was US$1.42trillion for year ended 30th Sept.2009 and expected to top US$1.6trillion the following year. So ours at US$7B pales in comparison as the US figure is 230 times ours and their population is just 15 times ours. The UK is also in crisis with painful cuts planned with increases in taxation and reduction in public expenditure. In the UK they are planning to increase the rates of Capital Gains tax so that there is no difference in rates from Income Tax. In Sri Lanka there is no Capital Gains Tax.

I am not advocating printing of money to buy consumer goods. I mean if the deficit funds long term development that results in a growth in productivity, it is well worth expending. While economists differ on the optimal level of deficits, that a country can sustain without hyper-inflation setting in, it is moot that in Sri Lanka of today, any of the rules of economics apply due to the special circumstances of a country recovering from a long war, where new vistas to economic development are opening up, which will clearly all result in direct increases to GDP.

This is why deficit financing of Northern Development should be undertaken, if it can provide employment to the resettled people, as it is better than just providing them a living allowance, when in fact they are making a direct contribution to the growth in infrastructure with little pressure on the Southern resources. Further the use of the security forces in the Northern development effort, will mean that their otherwise inflationary wages bill, is actually now being put to productive use in the economy as a whole, whilst they are also learning a construction trade into which they can eventually find productive employment once the skills are developed.

It is sad that the opposition is out of touch on the practical aspects of managing deficits, and are parroting textbook theories that somehow have no place in 2010 Sri Lanka. We have a unique set of circumstances which include massive foreign remittances recorded and not that form a huge portion of National Income, which has allowed Sri Lanka to defy all doomsday predictions and come out with an overvalued currency, with no balance of payments deficits permitting a lotus eating lifestyle that only makes work optional. A pragmatic finance team in Sri Lanka with the amiable Dr Amunugama having his input can wave the wand, if the rogues in power can be stopped from stealing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What do you know? I just discovered the ruling classes are reading my blog!!

This blog is primarily devoted to common sense issues that come to my mind from my personal experiences, which I believe will help in improving the quality of life for the average Sri Lankan. I respect differences of opinion, as I don’t expect people to accept everything I write, but if they just think of what I have written and come up with another alternative based on my evaluation, then I have the satisfaction that I have commenced a dialogue that will hopefully lead to positive change and direction on an issue in question.

I believe that whatever we do in life should be for a purpose or motive that leads to a net benefit to society. It is in that vein that I have taken advantage of the blogosphere to express my views and opine on topics that are of interest to me, and comment on observations that I find interesting which may spur discussion and an eventual shift in action, policy, thought or direction.

It is therefore heartening that a government looking hard at solutions to intractable problems, has a source they can refer to when they want to know what is wrong? What can be done to solve them? With a source they need not credit and gain brownies for someone else’s effort. My agenda is transparent, I don’t represent any particular interest group except mine personally, and I am fairly critical of the legislators, so no one needs to admit reading this blog, let alone cribbing ideas and suggestions from it.

So guys and ladies, recommend the blog to your colleagues if they want some genuine unsolicited advice as sometimes in your ivory towers with sycophants all around you, it is hard to see the wood from the trees.

Remember that many people who give advice live a life far removed from the people whose lives they are trying to affect by actions and policies and at least reading some of my stuff, you know that this is from one who experiences some of the problems on a daily basis at first hand and writes about it, something few people can at my end of the spectrum do to be heard.

Mayor of Colombo if you read this (sorry I forgot Colombo does not even have a Mayor!!!)…. “the roads are not constructed properly, and the water does not drain into sink holes, but remain in puddles on the side, when I walk on the pavement, I get drenched by the spray of vehicles driving into the puddles, even though I try to be as far from the road as possible. None of the elected officials walk, so they will be unaware of this problem. I perform a green service to the environment by walking, you can help us walk, without hindrance, and help the environment.”

Living in unauthorized places – a possible resolution to an age old problem - a current topic due to the flooding related displacements

There are many people who live on land illegally, some of whom have deeds that are fraudulent but they don’t realize they are fraudulent as lawyers have provided them with false deeds. People live and squat on land that are usually parts of river, canal, sea, road or tank reservations, and therefore do not have legitimate deeds. The Govts. over the years have ignored this, as no one wants to incur the wrath of these people, who will either ask to be re-housed or be provided with alternative accommodation. As elections loom, they are even given water and electricity, in return for a vote. We in Sri Lanka have a ridiculous system where electricity and water services are supplied to unauthorized and illegal constructions, like my neighbors who live on a river reservation in Polonnaruwa, while I don’t have and find difficult to get electricity to my property, which I lawfully occupy.

This issue is timely due to the recent floods. Many people living on such lands have suddenly lost their homes to the raging waters, and are seeking help to be re-housed, or have their homes rebuilt. It is simply nonsensical to have them rebuilt in the same location, as a reservation is made just for this occasion in case of flood, and accordingly should not be occupied. In many cases people have lived for generations and are loathe to move. When the Tsunami struck, many people were re-housed inland elsewhere in homes built for them. They then rented out those homes, and moved back into temporary homes built in the very places where their homes washed away. Look at the line of homes in the Moratuwa, Koralwella area for example. It is because they prefer to live in an area they have known and where their business, legitimate or not is conducted from, or for other reasons.

Further in the case of Colombo, cost of land is so outrageous that squatting is the only option if they are to live in a place close to employment as renting a place is out of the question on their incomes. Building of housing schemes to provide shelter for these people is fraught with political interference, as influence is also used to get housing due to the demand for such accommodation. There is no guarantee that alternative land or housing will be permanent due to the misuse of anything that is free, and all they will do is rent the housing they receive and go back to the same place where they were evicted from.

I suggest that using the electoral rolls, and electricity board information, some idea of the longevity of these tenancies is first established. Then a temporary monthly stipend be given them who have established that though illegal they have occupied a location for a considerable period of time usually in excess of 5 years. This is as a measure for them to find alternative accommodation of their choice, in areas of their choosing or the provision of state housing in areas that the state chooses, where they agree to inhabit, or lose if vacated. This grant can be a monthly one for say 6 months, and the state housing is an alternative, and not in addition.

This same scheme should also be applied to shanty dwellers who sometimes occupy state lands or squat on private lands, where private landowners are also fighting battles to get eviction orders on them. The intractable problem of people wanting to live near the homes they previously occupied as they consider the area their neighborhood, is one that is not easily solved, especially in land scarce Colombo. Furthermore giving free land to squatters is a license to encourage squatting and not discourage it.

We now come to the enforcement and prevention of illegal occupation, which is part of the state responsibility of policing all these reservation lands to ensure that no unauthorized construction takes place on such lands. If this is not done with regular frequency, someone else would just take the place of the evictee, and one is no nearer a solution to this issue.

One must also remember anything given free is unappreciated, and in many instances, land obtained freely is sold and the money spent, and people claim landlessness and lay claim to further areas by squatting yet again. Whether landlessness is either out of choice or circumstance is hard to determine, and the answer lies in assistance with housing, and not a complete subsidy. Thus given a stake in a property that is subsidized, one is more reluctant to sell or abandon, such a place, and accordingly is more likely to live and develop this property.

Poverty is a very cruel fate, and while not wishing to be harsh on those most disadvantaged in a community, one has to have an enlightened plan of providing living accommodation that permits labor mobility to areas of employment as well as security of ownership. How one reaches this delicate balance can be by providing rental accommodation to families at a reasonably subsidized rent, which nevertheless requires the tenant to contribute a portion that gives the tenant certain rights of security, which also goes along with adhering to conditions.

Highlighting the current predicament is an occasion from which to begin assessing the problem of unauthorized living, and alternative accommodation can then be offered with strings to asses the take up rate, making quite clear that squatting is not an option. The Disaster Management Ministry should work closely with the Housing and Construction Ministry to find suitable alternative accommodation, none of which should be provided without some sort of cost sharing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Remembrance & Commemoration of end of hostilities – May 19th 2010 a good day to start a Decade of Peaceful Development in honor of the sacrifice

It is a year since the LTTE was militarily defeated, that ended 30+ years of bloodshed. As it was an internal conflict all the casualties were Sri Lankan Citizens and whatever the death toll varying from 100,000 to 260,000 on all sides both combatants and non-combatants it was a heavy price to pay. The injured and disabled will carry the scars to the end of their days, the parents, spouses and children will carry bereavement for that long too. The relatives of the missing will similarly suffer, not knowing the fate of their loved ones. There really is no end to the suffering of these people, and it is the degree to which each of us individually copes with that memory that will define our future peace of mind. WE DO NOT WANT A REPEAT either for ourselves or for our children of this legacy.

The displaced have had to re build their lives, with over 1.5Million having permanently settled outside these shores during this period, and a further number awaiting to go back to their former homes, from refugee camps in India or within, known as IDPs. There is an immense amount of work still to be done for these people, and as assistance is slow to come from overseas as promised, the GOSL(government of Sri Lanka) must do what is necessary to perform this duty. There are huge swathes of land that require be cleared of mines, prior to settlement and homes and livelihoods have to rebuilt from scratch. It is no easy task and will take years and cost a large amount.

The progress in the last 12 months has been painfully slow, even though the govt. will point to the number of people no longer in the IDP camps. That’s just it they are no longer in camps, but do they have lives? It is a question of getting the infrastructure basics in order so that they can make a start. The elections, first the provincial that dragged on from 2008 all the way to the end of 2009, then the Presidential in early 2010 and then finally the General Elections this last April took all the energy of the government and the bureaucracy from the issues at hand and are mercifully over, and so we celebrate the first anniversary of a colossal waste of resources in fighting elections, a sum that has cost the country more than the cost of resettlement of the IDPs. Not one of the elections was fought on a specific agenda, but on the record of wiping out terror. So we have no idea what to expect as nothing has been promised, except that we would have a GNP per capita of $4000 in 4 years.

There is nothing we can now do about the wasted year, but we can surely make up for it by speeding up and doubling up on the work that is needed to be done urgently. So lets let us use this anniversary to give thanks to all those who made it possible for us to start with a terror free state, and with an expected lifting of the state of emergency, we can truly be free to begin a new decade of growth, backed by the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, so that we are free from fear.

It is an opportunity to gather all the resources including international goodwill to lay the foundation of a decade of growth, which should easily see a tripling of real GNP per capita. There is no excuse for a country of this size with a huge human resource potential that is not tapped, to take off productively under good management and governance, which could remove the obstacles to development, bearing in mind the immense resources we have.

More specifically, removal of archaic barriers and outdated land ownership rules for land will release agricultural land for increased mechanized and productive agricultural methods. Unreasonable labor laws with regard to termination of employees will ensure more ready hiring of staff on permanent payroll, which is currently not being done due to these barriers to employment. Giving the same benefits that are given to BOI companies, to all companies that are investing in growing their businesses will help local companies to grow their employment base, currently given to new investment primarily from tax concessions only given to these foreign dominated FDI’s foreign direct investments.

The most important barrier to growth in Sri Lanka is the stifling bureaucracy which discourages anyone from investing, especially the delay and procrastination on the part of the government departments, who do not see the economic benefits of speeding up investment, as their culture is one of graft and slowing down authorizations in order to justify their existence.

Let us take this unique opportunity to put Sri Lanka on the map and not just talk about it as the politicians are good at, and instead act on all the words. We must walk the talk, as none of the ideas that are expounded, ever come to fruition.
Lets not forget the private sector is the real engine of growth, and their path needs to be smoothed over, and the government’s responsibility should not be to compete with them, but to prepare the groundwork in infrastructure to oil the wheels that turn, so as to make the ride more smooth, and if that is done more wheels will want to ride the roads and railways, which is the objective in order to achieve the growth targets.

It is a good sign that captains of industry have been appointed to head state boards, but they should also be given the powers to exercise direction without hindrance to stamp their seal, and their performance constantly evaluated. If India can grow at 10% why cant we get 15%, 7% is just not good enough.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A holistic approach to governance is required and not a buckshot one

The new administration in Sri Lanka has an electoral mandate, despite the low voter turnout to set about policies in place to achieve its goals, which is hoped to achieve a GNP per capita of US$4,000 in five years from the estimated US$2,000 currently. There are severe structural changes to the economy that are required, and the government has the legislative power to enact laws to achieve these changes.

It is a once in a lifetime’s opportunity afforded this administration, to do the needful if we are truly to reach the targets set, but all sections of government and the private sector have to work with a common purpose, with no passing of the buck anymore, if we fail to achieve this objective.

Taking the example of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation as a case study in how this approach has to be adopted in practice, we note that a new Chairman in the guise of Mr Harry Jayawardene has been appointed. Whilst on the face of it, this may seem a strange appointment, to appoint a Business Tycoon to this position, on the other hand it may be the right choice as a person with the competence to affect the real changes that are required. One must also note that he was a onetime Chairman of Sri Lankan Airlines, so is no stranger to head a Public Enterprise.

Added to this his immediate boss is the new Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mr Susil Premajayanth a respected politician with clean hands, being given a very important job to weed out any existing corrupt practices and clean up a Ministry which was notorious as a hotbed of graft. These two people have an unenviable job ahead, and could define the direction of this government if left to do a good job without interference. I will address some of the immediate issues that are required to achieve this goal. The Rs55B owed to the CPC by the CEB(Electricity Board for fuel supplies) has to be resolved, if the losses of the CPC are to be seriously tackled. Either this debt should be taken up by the Treasury and CPC compensated or some decision needs to be taken, so that CPC can get back on a proper footing.

Then the inefficiencies within the CPC need to be tackled, like the gross over staffing and the 1000+ people on the payroll, due to political patronage, but who do not turn up to work, preventing this organization from returning to profitability as it should be a highly profitable entity with a potential profit before tax of about Rs5B per annum, taking into account the price of oil, selling prices, refinery capacity and infrastructure. Further the lack of arms length of the deal to sell the gas by-product of CPC to LAUGFS, needs to be corrected, so that a market rate can be established for a fairer price to CPC of this valuable product.

In doing this, the bad dream of the oil hedging scandal, which only Minister Premajayanth (the only minister including the President) understands and is briefed on, needs to be shunted out of its balance sheet and expunged. If the new Chairman is allowed to rationalize and modernize this behemoth, and the trade unions representing its overpaid employees are handled with tact and persuasion, I believe the massive turnaround of over Rs20B in profitability can be achieved, flowing into the treasury and would be a clear indication of the government’s serious intentions of cutting the fat, improving productivity, showing the IMF they are truly making headway, and will go a long way in instilling confidence.

In order therefore to succeed the whole machinery of government has to work on the same page, like pay their dues. For example, for the CEB to pay the CPC, they in turn need to be paid the bills by all the state institutions, security forces, ministries and the ministers themselves and their cohorts who have not paid their individual bills and have used their influence of position not to have their electricity terminated, unlike lesser mortals like us who have automatic termination if unpaid. That is what I mean by a holistic approach, as otherwise it is impossible to run any entity that is not allowed to function with true independence.

In doing so external government to government deals also need further investigation to ensure they too are arms length such as the oil deals with Iran, that are boasted of as being favorable, which in turn have shown to be most unfavorable to Sri Lanka in hindsight, and the extension of credit terms, when no one would give us credit, now seem to be outrageously expensive, bearing in mind the arms length bond issues that sovereign debt of Sri Lanka can now command.
While Sri Lanka is in an enviable position regarding its external financing, we should not squander this short term benefit, but instead use it to bring down the huge deficit on the government current account, used to finance recurring expenditure, if we are to tame the rising inflation, which in turn will lead to rising rates if spending is not curtailed. What better way to ensure this, than the turnaround of the loss making institutions into profit. Despite the expected tourist boom, the increasing losses of the twins of Sri Lankan Airlines and Mihin Air seem destined to drag us down further, unless the red ink stops flowing.

I have merely picked a small example, to show what is happening, and what needs to be done, and this if replicated across the arms of government, will reduce waste, reduce cost hopefully by reducing the amounts going into lining of the pockets, and thereby benefit the economy, as actions can now be performed not just with votes in mind, but real growth, which is the final legacy that is left for posterity.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Another Serendipitous outcome only to be revealed here

In Sri Lanka, and perhaps elsewhere many people on survival mode wear their lives on their shoulders and live quite dangerously and by the grace of the almighty having faith in the supreme being to take care of chances we take in life, more out of forced circumstances than by design.

Driving my broken down, rusty and quite the worse for wear pick up, I know I always live dangerously not out of choice but out of force of circumstance. (my detractors may beg to disagree, but that is from their armchairs!) I have to make tough choices and prioritize my expenses primarily for the must dos. There is a long list of wants and desires that can only be met if circumstances were different.

In this regard, when I spend over Rs20,000 on a set of tires in November last and discover less than 10,000km later, in April they have both completely lost their tread, what does one do? I know in this instance, when I requested CEAT FM tires and was given CEAT T2000 for the same price, saying they were equally good, I was completely misinformed. The FM tires, purchased at the same place gave me 25,000KM so it is a no brainer that the latter were inferior in every respect, and I was had by the unscrupulous dealer, the Tire Box on Malay Street as they were out of the FMs.

To cut a long story short, I had a puncture in a desolate stretch of road in Hanwella about 20 minutes away from home, on my drive back to base in Godagama, from Minneriya quite late at night as that is the time I can spare for driving. Fortunately I had a man Friday with me, and was not alone on this trip, as sometimes I drive back on my own with no helper.

When the jack, the original that came with the vehicle was set up, for want of an explanation with a fully loaded pickup it just gave way and buckled once fully outstretched. Fortunately we had the presence of mind to put back the punctured tire, so the full force of the fall did not depress the axle to the ground, as I had a premonition that a bent jack pre-warned a break which was what happened.

What does one do? Broken jack, stuck in the middle of the night, it looked like we were in for a whole night standing outside; sitting in the cab may have resulted in further weight that may depress the axle or result in the wheel also buckling.

When this ghastly proposition dawned on us both, a man seemingly from nowhere turned up and in passing, asked us what was wrong, and I flashed the flashlight at the broken buckled jack and showed him our unenviable situation. He then suggested I come with him up the road and that he knew of a garage, and would see if he could get a hydraulic jack to help us out. Fortunately there was a man in the garage, in the inside room asleep, he was a member of staff who also acted as the security due to vehicles in the garage requiring some guard. He was woken up and told by the good Samaritan, that he would act as the guarantor and to give me the jack and that I would return it once I had been able to change the wheel.

After some false starts we were able to use this jack to change the wheel and get back home in one piece breathing a sigh of relief that we were saved by a stroke of luck or divine intervention from a much more battered alternative.

We returned the jack having to wake him up again, and the offer of some money for the trouble was politely refused. I left my name and phone number with him to give to the good Samaritan who also appeared to be a traveler who went to far off places to buy produce for sale in other places.

What is the moral of this story? Is it that one should take no chances in life and play very safe? Going about minimally, staying in one place and making doubly sure that all bases and possibilities are covered. Maybe have comprehensive insurance and have a good roadworthy vehicle. Some even have backup vehicles when they go long distances so they are not stranded. Well these luxuries are for a select few and the other mortals live their lives the best they can as I believe I do.

One only lives on this earth a short time and is either full of life’s experiences or devoid of them. While I have had my fill of experiences, I still seem to want even more experiences at the pace of life I lead. My goal is of course to improve upon my current situation, and I am taking the necessary steps to do so, however there are circumstances that intervene that make this goal a little difficult to attain at present, and possibly some delay in achievement with the obstacles seemingly limitless. However when one compares ones life with others with seemingly much easier lives, and when one delves more deeply into their lives and find them far more troubled, one is thankful for the mercies one actually has and not the obstacles one is faced with.

It is true that it is not the achievements that count, but the path one treads in life’s experiences that determine character. It is difficult to divine this path exactly, but as long as the road is clearly marked ahead, and the pitfalls are avoided and the pot holes carefully trodden on, the eventual destination will seem worth the road traveled. We must never forget that we just cannot predict the next moment and being grateful it is not worse is fulfillment in itself, though we may not realize it at the time of occurrence.