igher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella, who is in the centre of a controversy over issuing of a letter to a Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Kelaniya requesting him to employ a person ‘known’ to the minister as a Temporary Lecturer in Political Science has been justifying his action in so many ways.
He first argued that he had asked the university authorities to appoint the person only if the latter was qualified, which was correct according to the initial reports. Then he challenged his adversaries, questioning them as to what was wrong in issuing such a letter on behalf of a supporter. Later he argued that he was authorised to issue such letters under the Universities Act.
The matter had led the Minister to admonish a journalist when the latter wanted to know the Minister’s side of the story. The journalist was attempting to fulfil a professional and ethical requirement by giving an opportunity to a person who was accused of abusing his Ministerial powers. The Minister might have been correct in finding fault with the journalist, had he published the allegation against the Minister without giving him an opportunity to tell his side of the story.
The Minister had wanted the journalist to study the Universities Act before inquiring from him of what actually happened. Yes, it would have been an added advantage for a journalist to be cognizant of all relevant laws before he ventured to investigate into any subject.
However, this would be very difficult in day-to-day news reportage, except in in-depth investigative reporting. Besides, the UNP leaders did not request the journalists to go through the Penal Code or the Public Property Act or the Firearms Ordinance or its amendments before publishing what they had told during press conferences about corruption and crimes purportedly resorted to by the politicians of the past regime.
The Minister’s stricture has been reported at a time when his government was preparing to present a Right to Information (RTI) Bill in Parliament. Some reports said that it would be presented in the House tomorrow, after dragging its feet for a long time.
Mr. Kiriella had argued that he had requested the university authorities to employ his supporter only he were qualified. It is presumable that he had thought it fit to write such a letter since his supporter might be dropped, even if he had the necessary qualification. Yes, there is such a possibility in every institution, especially in the Government institutions, given the highly corrupt bureaucracy in the country. But that was the system that the leaders of the new Government promised to rectify in the name of good-governance. You cannot bring in good-governance by reverting to the old habits of bad governance.
The Minister’s question as to what was wrong in issuing a letter on behalf of a supporter raises another question in turn as to who is going to issue letters to those qualified, sometimes more qualified supporters of the Opposition parties.
The President or, Prime Minister or the Ministers are not supposed to serve only their supporters as the supporters of the Opposition also pay direct and indirect taxes to run the Government institutions. However,we can appreciate this pressure on an elected Member of Parliament, more so a Minister whose constituents may have spent many years in the wilderness and now look to him for succour . A political culture does not change that quickly or easily , but members of the government must at all times be aware that they must stand for what they campaigned