Global community supporting Sri Lanka’s progressive march

Updated 04 February 2014
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Global community supporting Sri Lanka’s progressive march

On this day, as we celebrate the 66th anniversary of our independence, we restate our commitment to safeguard the freedom and rights of our people, and decide on our future free of dictates from the re-emerging forces of colonialism.
With our freedom strengthened by the defeat of separatist terrorism, we proceed on our journey toward progress.
This requires new social, political and economic strategies that include modern infrastructure such as ports, airports, highways, power and energy and the latest trends in industry, commerce and trade, and education. While most of this is already in place, in the new drive for development, much more remains to be achieved offering exciting challenges ahead.
It is our belief that the strength of our freedom largely depends on developing indigenous skills and knowledge, to restore the glories of our past and move ahead to the victories of the future.
As we celebrate our freedom today, we should remember with the deep gratitude the members of our security forces who courageously stepped forward to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity when they were under grave threat.
We shall always honor and pay tribute to the great sacrifices they made to ensure that we live in freedom and unity.
Our policy of nonalignment, with a commitment to justice and humanity, has brought us friends in the global community who understand our trials in recent decades, and are ready to help us go forward in freedom with the assurance of support in international fora.
I share your dream to strengthen the Sri Lankan nation under a single flag in a united country. Achieving this requires hard work, with diligence and honesty of purpose.
It calls for patriotism that transcends the barriers of geography and community, with reconciliation in a rich unity of purpose.
This will lay the foundation for the success of our children and future generations who will inherit this land, to live in peace and harmony bringing the glories of new achievements that inspire us from our past.
Let us together pledge to build this future for our land and people in the peace and freedom we have won.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa

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Sri Lanka’s tryst with destiny

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Sri Lanka’s tryst with destiny

Sri Lanka today celebrates her 66th Independence Day with magnificent pomp, pageantry and spirit of patriotism. The day signifies the effort of a developing nation to celebrate her cherished sovereignty, rich cultural heritage and diverse ethnicity in right earnest.
Indeed, on Feb. 4 each year Sri Lanka unites as a nation, despite fratricidal differences, to commemorate the heroic sacrifices of freedom fighters. It is nothing short of an irony that the same populace, who are at loggerheads today, once fought shoulder to shoulder to achieve political independence from the British yoke. Mahatma Gandhi, principal icon of Indian freedom movement, had greatly influenced the island nations’ nationalists. Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, was very special to Gandhi as he aptly equated the picturesque country to a “resplendent pendant” on the Indian necklace during his visit in 1927. However, in today’s context Gandhi’s utterance is likely to be misinterpreted by a section of Lankan people as another instance of India’s hegemonic attitude toward her miniature neighbors.
In fact, the political landscape of the subcontinent altered drastically with the trio of Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan achieving independence in those initial days of decolonization following the end of a bloody WWII. As Sri Lanka turns 66 today, it is time for the nation to once again reaffirm her faith in plurality. Yes, the country did endure hard times in the past six and half decades but stood firm in the face of repeated onslaught on her sovereignty. The worst one came in the form of a three-decade long civil war that eventually disturbed social amity and dealt a body blow to Sri Lanka’s political vitality. And many Sri Lankans still blame India for their plight, accusing New Delhi of undue interference. Perhaps India’s often-repeated assertion of doing everything under her command to enable the ethnic minorities to become the master of their own destiny within the ambit of a united Sri Lanka has hurt the Sri Lankan psyche badly.
As India continues her engagement with Colombo, perhaps it is also time for New Delhi to be more discreet in handling the bilateral relations so that it does not appear that the Indians are treating Sri Lanka as a vassal state to further New Delhi’s strategic ambition in South Asian region. Years ago Sri Lanka made a tryst with destiny and that destiny was certainly not supposed to be bereft of multi-racial and religious cohabitation. Independent Sri Lanka not only made rapid economic and political progress but also ensured that the minority communities can negotiate their linguistic and cultural rights with a majority ruled government. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayam pact bears testimony to the right intention of providing special autonomy to provincial councils. This radical step would have addressed the communal discord, plaguing the nation for most part of her independent history, adequately and establish a truly pluralistic political culture. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka floundered midway as its journey toward republicanism, laced with number of overarching grand themes including secularism, was interrupted by the advent of rabid ethno-nationalism surreptitiously. However, one must also concede that the island nation did evolve into a modern industrial society from a primitive and feudal agrarian system very fast. Lanka also boasts of impressive social indicators in education and health besides ensuring that none of her citizens goes to sleep hungry with the introduction of a massive food subsidy program. Today, as peace prevails, Sri Lanka is witnessing an impressive growth trajectory. Being the third major country in SAARC, she plays an important role in fostering cooperation among member states and has taken the lead in making South Asia green and happy. Hence, this Independence Day is the perfect opportunity for the Lankan nation to let go of the past, characterized by political alienation and cultural castration, and allow the long suppressed soul of the nation to be liberated from prejudices.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019
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How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”