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On the evening of Sept 23, 1999, Qantas Flight QF1 was approaching to land at Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. The nine-year-old Boeing 747-400, registered VH-OJH and named City of Darwin, was carrying 391 passengers and 19 crew. It was en route from Sydney, Australia to London on the first leg of the so called ‘Kangaroo Route’.
That evening there were scattered thunder showers over Bangkok, which was quite common at that time of the year. The flight was uneventful and routine until the top of descent (‘TOD’) was reached. On the flightdeck that rainy night was a 49-year-old Captain with 15,881 hours of experience, a 36-year-old First Officer (F/O) with 8,973 hours of flying time, and a 35-year-old, 6,685-hour Second Officer (S/O). Also seated on the flightdeck was the latter pilot’s wife. If a crew member’s wife or partner was travelling as a passenger, it was not unusual in those pre-9/11 times for the captain to invite her to occupy the extra observer’s seat, or ‘jump seat’.
During the approach, the aircraft was being flown by the F/O, under the supervision of the Captain, who was a company-designated Base Training Instructor (a trainer in take offs and landings for pilots). The crew did a thorough briefing, which included the expected weather and visibility conditions in Bangkok. In aviation meteorology, good visibility is normally reported as being 10km (kilometres) or more. On this occasion the visibility was reported by the ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) as 7km in rain. In fact, the F/O suggested that if the visibility was unacceptable, they should go around (abort the landing), climb away from proximity to the ground, and enter a holding pattern somewhere in the clear until it was safe to attempt a second approach and landing. To this the Captain remarked that 7km visibility was not too bad and acceptable as it was only due to showers of rain.
However, when QF1 was on its final approach for Runway 21 Left the intensity of rain at the airport increased and visibility began dropping further, down to 4km. It was observed by then that the rain clouds were directly above the airport. At this point the Captain suggested that automatic brakes (autobrakes) were selected to a higher no. 3 setting to compensate for a wet runway and the possible chance of skidding and aquaplaning. The aircraft’s anti-skid brake system would provide for safer stopping.
The visibility then went down to a mere 1,500 meters. Another Qantas flight (QF15) approaching the same runway just ahead of QF1 decided to go around. Unfortunately, that aircraft was speaking with the air traffic control tower on their radio frequency and could not be monitored by QF1 which was on the different ‘approach’ radio frequency.
Had the QF1 crew heard their own company aircraft discontinuing its landing and initiating a go-around, there is no doubt that they would have been mentally prepared for what to expect closer to the airport. When going around, the pilot is expected to announce that decision to the control tower. To operate safely, pilots of today rely on their hearing perhaps to a greater degree than visual cues, to form a mental picture by listening out for other aircraft operators who all work on a common radio frequency. This enhances their knowledge of what is going on around them and is commonly known as ‘situational awareness’.
As per company-dictated procedures, the F/O intended to use partial flaps ‘25’ for landing, and idle reverse thrust after landing. A higher ‘full’ flap setting would allow the aircraft to touchdown at a lower speed; and that, more than idle reverse thrust, would have allowed the aircraft to decelerate quickly. That would have been more appropriate for a wet runway.
Soon they spotted the lead-in approach lights to the runway, and the lights at the runway threshold. These lights were visible through the moderate rain which was not a deterrent to the crew visually orientating themselves, with wings level and a continuous descent in the final approach. The remainder of the runway lights were, however, obscured by the heavy rain over the runway.
Unfortunately, the F/O flattened out his descent in the rain and floated beyond his projected touchdown point (1,000ft from the threshold), so the captain had to remind him to keep on descending and get the aircraft on the ground quickly. As a matter of interest a ballpark rate of descent that pilots use to maintain an ideal 3-degree glide path is half the ground speed indicated by the GPS plus a zero, in feet per minute. For example, if the GPS-indicated ground speed was 160 knots, the pilot should strive to keep a rate of descent of about half of 160, that is 80, plus a ‘0’: 800 feet per minute. A rate of descent less than that will cause the aircraft to ‘float’ while using up valuable ‘real estate’ ahead. As an old aviation adage goes, ‘Runway behind you is useless. Runway ahead is priceless.’
The approach speed was a few knots faster but within limits.While the Captain was aware that the Boeing 747 floated further in than the normal 1000 feet from the threshold, it was still within company tolerance limits. Hence, the Captain increased the autobrakes setting to no. ’4’ without telling the rest of the crew. The heavy rain in the middle of the runway, prevented him from seeing the lights at the end of the runway, so he was unsure of their position relative to the length of the runway. Therefore he did the next best thing and ordered a go-around at low level. The standard procedure was for the F/O, who was flying the aircraft, to press the ‘Go-Around’ buttons on the throttles. When either or both buttons are pressed the aircraft goes into the go-around mode: engine power increases automatically, the autobrakes switch off, and the Flight Director System provides the pilot with a precise nose-up attitude to fly. This manoeuvre is regularly practiced in the flight simulator, under supervision of an instructor. However, in this instance, for some reason the F/O increased the throttles manually without pressing the go-around buttons (using his index and the middle fingers). Consequently, the aircraft continued to descend due to its momentum and the wheels touched down on the runway softly.
By now they had passed the patch of intense rain at the centre of the runway and could see the lights at the end of the runway. The captain made a judgement call, without announcing to the rest of the crew, and closed the throttles by placing his right hand over the F/O’s left hand which was already controlling the throttles. In the process he inadvertently failed to close (throttle back) the number one (left outer) engine which was still operating at high thrust. As a result the automatic spoilers (air brakes), although armed, did not deploy as it did not satisfy auto-spoiler computer logic which demanded that all engines must be at idle power with the aircraft on ground for the spoilers to ‘pop up’. As the name implies, when the aircraft has touched down the spoilers ‘spoil’ the lift generated by the wings and forces the aircraft to stay firmly on its wheels to facilitate effective braking. The auto spoilers were eventually deployed only after the F/O pulled the no. 1 throttle back to idle power. The autobrakes also dropped off to ‘disarm’ position as one thrust lever was still at full thrust for over three seconds with the aircraft ‘on ground’, yet nobody on the flightdeck noticed it.
Usually, once a decision is made to go around and climb away from the ground, the flight crew are expected to stick to the plan without attempting to reverse their decision, for example attempting to land again. The Captain being a flight instructor who teaches takeoffs and landings decided to carry this out while accepting the risks. His unilateral actions obviously caused confusion on the flightdeck. At that point no-one knew who was in control of the aircraft. The standard aviation practice, from the pilots’ fledgling days, would have been that the instructors and captains brief the trainee or F/O that if they take over, they will announce loudly: “I have control”. In turn the trainee or First Officer must say, “you have control” so that there is no ambiguity. If appropriate to give back control to the other pilot, the instructor/captain must announce again loudly, “You have control”, and the other should again acknowledge by saying, “I have control”.
Wife in flightdeck
In this instance, did the Captain quietly interfere and not announce to avoid embarrassment to the F/O as the second officer’s wife was present in the flightdeck? We don’t know. But I have seen that happen. The Australian accident investigators in their final report say that her presence did not affect the outcome of the accident. That is true. This aspect is purely the point of view of the writer who was a trained Human Factors Facilitator for a Far Eastern carrier.
Back at Bangkok … realising the urgency to slow down, both pilots were frantically braking using the manual brakes on the rudder pedals to bring the aircraft to a stop. As in most jet aircraft, there were four other stopping devices installed in the four engines, known as thrust reverses, which are effective at high speed. In their confusion the two pilots forgot to use them. The third pilot (second officer) didn’t remind the other two operating pilots either. (The roar of engine noise that passengers hear immediately after landing is the deployment of reverse thrust.) The devices literally deflect the engine thrust forward and engine power increases to assist the spoilers and wheel brakes to bring the aircraft to a stop. The thrust reverse controls are on the forward part of the throttle levers themselves and could be moved in one smooth movement up and backwards through an idle detent, after the throttles are closed.
The official investigation conducted by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) deduced by analysing the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) that in this case the runway surface was flooded resulting from the intense rain and produced a phenomenon referred to as ‘aquaplaning’ whereby a thin layer of water is trapped between the runway surface and the tyres, rendering the brakes less effective and increasing the likelihood of skidding. Aquaplaning could occur where the depth of water is as little as 3mm (1/8 of an inch). From 146 knots the huge Boeing 747 took four seconds to reduce its speed to 134 knots. Seventeen more seconds to reduce to 94 knots and it entered an area at the end of the runway known as the stopway, then overran it at a speed of 88 knots on to a muddy patch of grass. At 79 knots the aircraft struck an Instrument Landing System (ILS) localiser antenna (on the extended centre line of the runway) which demolished the nose wheel and the right landing gear, while also damaging the aircraft’s public address (PA) system, before sliding on its nose to stop 220 metres beyond the end of the stopway just before a perimeter road.
Damage from overrun
An inspection of the aircraft soon after the crash confirmed that the spoilers had been deployed and flaps were selected to an intermediate position ‘25’ in keeping with company policy. However it was also confirmed that reverse thrust had not been used after the touchdown. No significant injuries to passengers and crew were reported. The subsequent precautionary passenger evacuation was affected by the unavailability of the PA system.
Investigators further observed that the aircraft had suffered substantial damage resulting from the overrun. The demolition of the nose and wing-mounted right-hand gear caused a wing to drop slightly to the right allowing the two engines on the right wing to contact the ground as the airplane slowed down. A complete examination of the aircraft showed that every system on the 747 was in good working order before the overrun.
Between 1970 and 1998, there had been 111 overruns of Western-built aircraft. In fact, the final accident investigation report observed that runway overruns were quite common in the industry for Western-built, high-capacity aircraft. Often, long and/or fast landings and wet runways were factors in these accidents.
Usually there is a chain of errors that leads to such an accident or incident:
(1) If the crew used a higher flap setting than the Qantas-recommended (preferred) setting of position ‘25’, they would have touched down at a lower speed and stopped quicker. Full landing flaps (‘30’) would have created aerodynamic drag and assisted in stopping.
(2) Their landing approach was faster than normal (within company limits).
(3) The aircraft floated passed the normal 1,000 foot touchdown point.
(4) If the crew took the adverse weather into consideration and briefed themselves to use full reverse thrust after touchdown that would have assisted the wheel braking action. (While the two nose wheels had no brakes, the 16 main wheels, on the four main landing gear assemblies, had brakes equipped with anti-skid systems.)
(5) The captain did not stick to the original plan of action to carry out a go-around, when unsure of their position on the runway.
(6) Reversing the go-around decision unilaterally by the captain without announcing to the rest of the crew resulted in confusion.
(7) When closing throttles one (no. 1) was inadvertently left at full power, leaving the aircraft’s computer logic in disarray.
(8) No proper procedure for taking over and handing over of control was used.
(9) The crew members forgot to use reverse thrust after touchdown.
The Australian investigators, who are not expected to apportion blame, declared, after analysing performance data, that if spoilers and full reverse thrust were used, they would have been able to stop within the limited landing distance available. There was no way they could not use reverse thrust and stop. Further investigation into the ‘cause behind the cause’, by applying thorough accident analysis, discovered that it was a systemic problem in Qantas Airways. Amongst other things, inadequate emphasis during simulator training on deviating from company-preferred Flap 25 and idle reverse, when necessary, on contaminated and wet runways. This was confirmed by the training department. Flap 25 and idle reverse was apparently introduced and accepted by Qantas as a cost-cutting exercise, and to reduce noise. The flight simulators were incapable of providing realistic wet/contaminated runway simulations. The written word for wet/contaminated runway operations in the training manuals were found ‘hidden’ under the cold weather operations section (ice and snow). Many crews including those involved in the accident were not aware of the extra precautions to be exercised on wet/contaminated runways recommended in the book. Usually, Qantas crews encountered ice and snow in Japan and Europe in their route network.
Qantas was fortunate that no-one was injured. It is rumoured that they spent more than the cost of a brand-new Boeing 747-400 to repair and put VH-OJH back in service, just to maintain its long-held record as ‘the safest airline in the world’ and not have a ‘hull loss’ on their hands.
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by Jehan Perera
The government decision to import ‘quality plant nutrients,’ including urea, corrects a major mistake which should not have been made and has cost farmers and the economy dear. So far, the relaxation of the ban seems to be for commercial crops grown by the business sector. Government officials have said permission has been given to import fertiliser for export crops, such as tea, rubber and coconut, and also specialist fertiliser needed for greenhouse cultivations. In Moneragala, for instance, it is reported that Dole Banana and sugar cane cultivations are provided with the required chemical fertiliser. The question is when the fertiliser ban will be removed for rice and vegetable cultivators who are small producers.
There is confusion, in this regard, and it is reflected in what is reported by the media. Agriculture Secretary Prof. Udith Jayasinghe, has stated that the government has permitted quality plant nutrient imports. Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage has declared that no such decision has been made by the government. According to Front Page, which is a news service of Verite Research, these two stories were reported as separate headlines in the Sinhala and Tamil newspapers- Lankadeepa, Mawbima, Divaina, Aruna, Dinamina and Virakesari.
The decision to ban chemical fertiliser has been met with opposition from the country’s experts in the field of agriculture. Academics from the universities have issued statements but to no avail. It may take some more time and more protests before the government finally yields to pressures from below, like the powerful government of Prime Minister Modi did last week in India. With public protests mounting from all parts of the country, and accompanied by Opposition political protests in Colombo, the government is likely to be forced to change course. It is reported that traders at economic centres have said that incoming crops had dropped sharply. Vegetable prices have almost doubled.
Modern high yielding hybrid varieties of agricultural crops require larger inputs of chemical elements, such as Nitrogen, which is supplied by chemical fertilisers in concentrated amounts and by organic fertilisers in much lesser amounts. While organic fertilisers are appropriate to traditional crops, the yield will be significantly lower. It can be surmised that those who advised the President to ban chemical fertilisers overnight had no real expertise in the area of agriculture. They may have had expertise in the area of health. There is a need for those who are qualified on the basis of merit in the area that is in question should make the decision.
According to the Economynext website, “Sri Lanka banned chemical fertiliser after the Government Medical Officers Association and a Buddhist monk, Athuraliye Rathana, carried on a campaign against them, claiming that kidney and other non-communicable diseases were caused by agro-chemicals. The GMOA has said that according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, ancient Sri Lankans had lived for over 140 years when there were no chemical fertilisesr.” In addition to merit, there needs to be both rationality and science in the making of decisions.
It is unfortunate that the state institutions responsible for ensuring agricultural productivity, were unable to have an impact on the rationality of the decision to ban chemical fertilisers. The ban was implemented with immediate effect despite being at high cost to the national economy, to farmer incomes and to consumer prices. This is indicative of the lack of voice and strength of the relevant state agencies that needs to be rectified. The two ways to rectify their weakness is to ensure that persons appointed to high positions of state are competent and that once they are appointed they are secure in their positions to stand up for what is right and rational. An appointing authority, comprising the government, Opposition and civil society, as envisaged by the 17th and 19th Amendments would be more likely to make suitable appointments than the President, acting by himself, with his advisors.
The failure to reverse the idiosyncratic decision to ban chemical fertilisers, for over six months, points to the need to strengthen state institutions. Decisions on issues that affect the country as a whole need to be taken by institutions and not by individuals. In the Sri Lankan context, this would call for the repeal of the 20th Amendment to the constitution which strengthened presidential powers at the expense of state institutions. A key feature of the 20th Amendment is to give to the President the sole authority to appoint persons to high positions of state.
On the other hand, the key feature of both the 17th and 19th Amendments was to vest the power of appointments of high state officers in the hands of the constitutional council, which was designed to be a multi-partisan selection body. The Constitutional Council comprised members of the government, opposition and civil society in a tripartite mechanism. Instead of having the President pick the top officials himself, the 17th and 19th Amendments ensured that such appointments were made jointly by government, Opposition and civil society representatives. It is more likely that the better choice would be made by a multi-partisan body jointly than by a single individual advised by his associates.
It is to be hoped that the new constitution that is being drafted, and which the Prime Minister has promised by the end of the year, would take these considerations into account. The members of the expert committee, entrusted with drafting the new constitution have themselves been appointed by the President. There is no indication of participation by other members of the government, or of the Opposition, or of civil society, in their selection. A worst case scenario would be one in which the expert committee seeks to introduce the centralisation inherent in the 20th Amendment to the whole of the constitution. This would vitiate pluralism, diversity and weaken the system of checks and balances within the country that are needed to facilitate better decision-making at all levels.
The fiasco over chemical fertilisers, where decision-makers make decisions outside their areas of competence, highlights the pitfalls that overcentralized decision making can lead to. In a similar manner, overcentralised decision-making can lead to decisions that are insensitive to regional, ethnic and religious differences that exist among the people. The different communitie, living in the country, are different, and should have the right to be different and the space to practice their different traditions. They should not be subjected to discrimination or be forced into a centralised straitjacket which are the issues that led to decades of ethnic conflict and finally to the war for separation.
Another reason why the 20th Amendment is not the way forward is that it leads to the weakening of institutions that are mandated to check impunity, bribery and corruption in the country. The media headlines these days, thanks to the courage of investigative journalists, are stories of mega corruption, including on the purchases of substitutes for chemical fertilisers. These allegations need to be investigated by law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities who do not feel they are beholden to anyone, including the appointing authority. The travails that Sri Lanka is currently going through highlights the need for the best appointments to be made, with merit being recognised and integrity being encouraged, which will be best done jointly and collaboratively by the government, Opposition and civil society.
By Professor R.P. Gunawardane
Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), one of the best and most popular non-state higher education institutions in this country, is in the news these days. It was established in 1998, with support from the Mahapola Trust Fund and its current status has been challenged by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
Mahapola Trust Fund (MTF) was established by the late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali in 1981 to grant scholarships for needy undergraduates in the Sri Lankan university system. The Chairman of the MTF has always been the Chief Justice of the country. Nearly half a million of our deserving undergraduates have so far benefitted from the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme. The MTF is certainly a noble organisation, established for a noble purpose by a great visionary, the late Athulathmudali, who was one of the best politicians, and very intelligent and energetic Minister ever produced by this country.
The SLIIT offers a novel model of non-state and non-profit fee-levying university for Sri Lanka although such institutions are common in the developed world. All top universities in the world, including Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and all Ivy League universities in the US, and even Oxford, Cambridge and London universities, in the UK, are of this type. Although they receive some funding from the government for specific teaching and research projects, none of them are state controlled.
Almost all the top universities in the world are located in the USA, the UK, Europe, Australia and Canada. None of these countries have University Grants Commissions (UGCs) or equivalents, or Universities Acts to govern higher education institutions. All universities are completely independent and managed by their boards of management without any interference from the government. All appointments including the post of Vice-Chancellors are done independently, by the board of management. It is recognised all over the world that this type of independence is required for a university to carry out its duties and functions effectively, maintaining the highest standards.
History of SLIIT
Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) commenced its operations in 1999 as a non-state and non-profit higher education institution to train manpower in the field of Computer Science and particularly in the broad field of Information Technology. The development, with rapid expansion, was possible because of a strong commitment by MTF to provide a loan of Rs. 500 million and a lease of a land encompasing 25 acres in Malabe, owned by the Mahapola Trust Fund. However, only Rs. 373 million was released by MTF as a loan for this purpose.
It started functioning at the Bank of Ceylon Merchant Tower, Colombo 3, now called the Metropolitan Campus of the SLIIT. After almost 22 years of its existence and rapid development, it has now become a fully-fledged higher education institution at national university level with wide national and international recognition.
I served the Board of Management of the SLIIT for nearly four years at the initial stages from 2000. I was nominated to the Board of Management by then Minister of Education and Higher Education Richard Pathirana. I also served as a member of the Board of Governors of MTF in my capacity as the Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
During my tenure, I noticed the tremendous potential the SLIIT had in the higher education sector and the effort, dedication, commitment, perseverance and continuous hard work by a group of academics led by Professor Lalith Gamage to bring this institution to the present level. Whatever the mistakes made in the process of developing this institute, this achievement should be recognised and preserved. This institution should not be destroyed.
The SLIIT is a national asset that must be retained and further developed as a non-state sector institution with a framework for checks and balances with regard to the broad national policy.
Current Status of the Institute
Currently, the SLIIT has two campuses and four regional centres. The main campus with all the laboratory, library, auditorium and all other facilities is located on a 25-acre land in Malabe. Its Metropolitan Campus remains in the BoC Merchant building, Colombo 3. Its Regional Centres are spreading throughout the country in the major cities – Matara, Kandy, Kurunegala and Jaffna. About 12,000 students are enrolled in this institution with about 400 highly qualified academic staff and 200 administrative and supporting staff. It has a large number of links and joint degree programmes with prestigious universities in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada.
SLIIT, being a non-state non-profit institution, is not under the purview of the UGC, and does not have to abide the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978, which has centralised powers and decision making in the UGC. Thus, SLIIT has a tremendous advantage and full freedom to expand and diversify programmes with innovative approaches, without any clearance or approval from any authorities.
This freedom is lacking in the state universities, and as such clearances and approvals have to be obtained from the UGC and other relevant ministries and agencies to commence new programmes. In recent years, the UGC has taken over more powers outside the Universities Act with regard to introduction of new courses and novel projects requiring to obtain prior approval from the UGC. Sometimes, it takes up to one year or more to obtain necessary approvals or clearances. By the time approval is obtained the programme may be outdated or if it is a joint project with foreign university or international organisation, the other party is no longer interested.
This kind of freedom available to the SLIIT should be retained for further development and implementation of novel and innovative programmes. Our national universities do not have the kind of freedom currently available to SLIIT. That is why our universities cannot compete with other similar institutions in Sri Lanka and abroad although the state universities have sufficient expertise but with limited resources.
It is important to note that the SLIIT (1999) achieved the current status only in about 22 years of its existence while our oldest universities, Colombo (1942) and Peradeniya (1952), existed for about 70-80 years. It is remarkable that this institution has become a vibrant national university beating most of our state universities except perhaps a few universities like Peradeniya and Colombo.
SLIIT may be considered a new experiment and novel approach to higher education in Sri Lanka. Thus, this approach should be further explored for the expansion and diversification of higher education sector in Sri Lanka.
Issues and Concerns
SLIIT administration claims that the loan of Rs. 373 million obtained from the Mahapola Trust Fund (MTF) to establish the SLIIT has been fully paid with interest totalling Rs. 408 million. In addition, they also make the annual lease payment of Rs. 25 million for the land in Malabe regularly, as agreed. However, it should be noted that MTF is not a commercial bank or money lending institution and it does not give loans to others. It has not given loans to any other organisation. It is believed that the MTF at the time wanted to make a long-term investment in the field of higher education in line with the philosophy of its founder Lalith Athulathmudali. The intention would have been to generate additional funding to support the scholarship funding for rapidly increasing number of needy undergraduates. Thus, the support for the establishment of the SLIIT is an investment the MTF made for the future.
I consider the severing of SLIIT’s connection to the MTF is a grave and unforgivable mistake done by the SLIIT administration. SLIIT would not have come up to the present position within two decades if not for the original support of the MTF through a loan of a huge sum and a 60-year lease agreement for the land at a prime location in Malabe.
Furthermore, the refusal of the SLIIT management to appear before the COPE Committee is very unfortunate although they may not have to do so legally due to their current status. However, this act by the SLIIT which was created by a noble organisation such as the Mahapola Trust Fund is highly unethical and needs condemnation. It was also a missed opportunity for the SLIIT management to explain their side of the story to the COPE members in order to get some concessions.
Although they developed innovative and popular academic programmes, rapidly attracting a large number of students, there were a number of unresolved and troubling issues, within the Institute. Some of them are:
1. Insufficient emphasis on high quality research and lack of an initiative to develop a much-needed research culture in the institute are clearly seen.
2. In the past, there were some news reports pertaining to irregularities in the financial administration of the institute by some higher officials. The veracity of these complains cannot be ascertained until an investigation is done. It was reported that there was no properly qualified and experienced accountant or Bursar to handle financial matters, and there has been no internal audit for a long period of time.
It is essential that the SLIIT should not be taken over by the government. If it does, it will certainly do much more harm than good to the higher education sector. First of all, its connection to the Mahapola Trust Fund, which may be considered as the mother institution, must be fully restored. It is also necessary to reconstitute a fully independent Board of Management, consisting of highly qualified and eminent professionals with no history of any misdeeds. It also should include one representation of the Mahapola Trust Fund as well. This institution should continue to run as a non-state and non-profit higher education institution with the fee-levying status. Appointments at all the levels should be made by the Board of Management without any external or government involvement.
The matters raised above and any audit reports should be investigated thoroughly and appropriate action be taken in order to improve the image of the institution. As stated in the original agreement of the SLIIT with the MTF, and also as a gesture of goodwill, the SLIIT should pay 20% of its profit annually to the MTF to strengthen the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme. This should be done even if the MTF’s ownership of the Institute is not legally established. This is in addition to the annual lease payment to the Mahapola Trust Fund for its use of 25-acre land at Malabe, where its main campus is located.
Furthermore, SLIIT should establish a scholarship scheme by contributing sufficient funds to provide partial scholarships to needy students covering at least 10% of the total student population in the Institute. This aspect is extremely important for the survival of a non-state fee-levying institution in a country where state universities provide free education.
Restructuring the institute may also be required, avoiding unnecessary and irrelevant structures, units and subject areas and strengthening the teaching, research and consultancy functions in the core area of information technology. It is vital that the non-state and non-profit status of the SLIIT should be retained in order for this institution to develop rapidly to become one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in Asia, attracting a considerable number of foreign students. In this attempt, it would be the best for the SLIIT if Professor Lalith Gamage, the live-wire of this institution, who is mainly responsible for its tremendous success, should continue as the Vice-Chancellor/CEO for a longer period to see the best results.
(The author is a Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya, formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education and Chairman, National Education Commission, Sri Lanka)
It’s a notable fact that the Jetliners, with Mignonne at the helm, were the first Sri Lankan group of musicians to take India by storm. And, they did it…not playing at pub-like venues, but at the Taj Mahal Hotel, in Bombay, and it wasn’t just a couple of gigs but, initially, for six months, and, eventually, covering five years, at this prestigious hotel.
In fact, it was the Jetliners who launched the ‘Blow Up’ discotheque at the Taj Mahal Hotel, and this particular venue drew large crowds, almost every night, with queues forming long before opening hours.
Performing at the world-renowned Taj Mahal, the Jetliners provided the music for several important weddings, held at the hotel, and the members also had the opportunity of meeting and greeting some of India’s top celebrities, who patronised the hotel on a regular basis.
They even met up with the late George Harrison, of Beatles fame, who was in India to master the sitar from the maestro sitarist himself – Ravi Shankar.
Yes, it was a mega scene for the Jetliners, in India, with Mignonne gaining extra popularity with her version of Uma Pocha’s ‘Bombay Merri Hai.’
One must keep in mind that the Jetliners achieved fame, without the aid of social media, YouTube, smartphones, private radio stations and TV stations, etc.
It was sheer talent that brought them to the fore.
And sheer talent is when you see artistes perform live on stage and not via videos that one sees on social media.
Sound effects, lighting, editing, etc., enhances a video production, but to do it live, on stage, and captivate an audience, you need real talent….
There also seems to be some confusion with regard to local artistes working with internationally-renowned record labels.
Of course, we did have quite a few, in the past, with, probably, Bill Forbes being the first – on the Columbia label (in the late 1950s), and his international hits included ‘God’s Little Acre,’ ‘Once More,’ ‘Believe In Me,’ and ‘You’re Sixteen.’
Jetliners’ Mignonne worked with EMI India, EMI Columbia, and EMI UK, while ‘Disco Lady’ hitmaker, Alston Koch, who is still in the limelight, had several world-wide hits, working for internationally famous record labels – RCA Victor, EMI and Sony.
His ‘Disco Lady,’ which went global, was with RCA/Laser, ‘Try Again’ (EMI), ‘Midnight Lady’ (EMI), ‘ Never Felt This Way Before’ (RCA Victor), while his last album, ‘Don’t Funk With Me,’ was a Sony production.
And, that means, we did have local stars, in the past, who did shine, abroad, on international labels, and we just can’t forget them.
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