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Cracks appear in Yahapalanaya

7 March 2016 12:40 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Equally disturbing is his manifest contempt to the media personnel, who dared to question about the letter. For those who believed that the new administration would herald a new era of accountability and civility, that was a disappointment.

y all accounts, the Yahapalana government is going through a rough patch. Some folks quip, tongue-in- cheek that the Joint Opposition’s coconut dashing has begun to work. Whatever the otherworldly forces behind the fallout, this is bad show. The UNP stalwart and the Minister of Higher Education and Highways Lakshman Kiriella was on record berating in abusive language a journalist after the former was exposed in influence peddling in an academic appointment at the Kelaniya University.


The Minister has sent a letter recommending a supporter be recruited as a temporary lecturer at the university. He later justified the action claiming that ‘he had only exercised the power vested in him under the University Act and had only asked to consider the qualifications of the said individual. (The Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) which played a key activist role in the election of President Maithripala Sirisena has demanded that the Minister should now resign)

Minister Kiriella’s expletive- rich response to an innocuous media query brings him to the good company of a few others political bigwigs in the previous regime, especially Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Mervyn Silva. However, the incumbent Higher Education Minister should be thankful that the media was kind enough to expunge the expletives in his response, so that the listeners and the readers had to make use of their imagination. However, the then Sunday Leader printed in verbatim the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s menacing response to Frederica Jansz, including that gem of an ingenious insult, ‘sh*t eating pig’.

Minister Kiriella’s letter to the Kelaniya University is a blatant abuse, no matter whatever justifications 

he later concocted including the misinterpretation of his powers under the University Act, itself.

Equally disturbing is his manifest contempt to the media personnel, who dared to question about the letter. For those who believed that the new administration would herald a new era of accountability and civility, that was a disappointment. 

But, those events should not be a surprise. The sense of condescension which was given verbal expression by Mr. Kiriella is deeply entrenched in a political and bureaucratic system that for too long used to view the average public as no better than goats whose only use is to be milked for the elections. 

 

"However, there is a silver line in the dark clouds. Even though the government has failed to hold its members accountable, some independent institutions empowered by the 19th Amendment are filling the void to a certain extent"


And the uneven status- quo between the politicos and the public, which widens with the passage of each day fosters those attitudes and makes the politicos think they are beyond criticism and media scrutiny. Mr Kiriella only betrayed that inner psyche that is common to most of our politicians.
Certain social, economic and perhaps even demographic factors may be buttressing those inflated egos. After all, people get politicians they deserve. When villagers who deny a five-year-old an education since the kid’s father had allegedly died of AIDS ( The deceased’s family has denied that) and the likes form the numerical majority or a sizeable portion of the polity, the importance of civility and accountability as values get a beating. Also the resultant regressive influence over shows the positive contribution to public and public discourse by an enlightened minority-- like those good people of Trinity who have reportedly offered to admit the distressed child.

When that happens, it gives little incentive for the politicians themselves to uphold civility. The former monarch of Iran, Shah once famously quipped, ‘I will behave like the king of Sweden, when the Iranians learn to behave like the Swedes.’ 

The behaviour of the public and the politicians are mutually reinforcing. In other words, it is naïve to expect the UNP ministers to behave like those in the Cabinet of David Cameron, simply because both the UNP and the Tories are members of the International Democratic Union. The truth is that we (including our politicos) are at a different point of civilization.

Individuals are predisposed to excesses and misdemeanours. That is why societies, institutions and even village welfare clubs have rules, norms and codes of conduct. When those are violated, actions should be taken to rectify them and to prevent repetition. It is in this context that the eerie silence of the government over the recent events is most disturbing. That sets a permissive environment for further abuses. 

Yahapalanaya risks ending up in the drain.

There is another danger. If the politicians and the government treat public with condescension ( or journalists with contempt)they would earn the same. 

 

"Whether Ranawaka was guilty or not, we don’t know and that can only be established by a Police investigation. And the Police seem to be doing that"


The government can learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. Ex- President Rajapaksa was the ‘Maharajano’ (king) and his cohorts were a law unto themselves within the borders of this country, but beyond our shores, at least in the civilized lands, they were viewed as nothing but pariahs. You cannot command respect from others, if you don’t treat your citizens with respect. MR and others knew the nature of international reception accorded to them. They finally found a bit of ego boost in the company of other likeminded fellas in Uganda, Libya and Ahamedinejad’s Iran
However, there is a silver line in the dark clouds. Even though the government has failed to hold its members accountable, some independent institutions empowered by the 19th Amendment are filling the void to a certain extent. Another incident and related developments would be testimony to this. Government Minister, Patali Champika Ranawaka was accused of being involved in a hit- and- run accident, in which a young man was critically injured. Minister Ranawaka has denied charges and another individual who had surrendered to the police claiming responsibility was later granted bail by the court.

Whether Ranawaka was guilty or not, we don’t know and that can only be established by a Police investigation. And the Police seem to be doing that. 

The Acting IGP has ordered a separate inquiry into the incident after a testimony by two witnesses (who have alleged that the minister was at the wheel when the accident happened.) What is instructive to note is that in a stark contrast to the recent past, when the Attorney General dropped cases against the politically connected criminals, the police appear to be free to do their duty now. That is a welcome change.

Even those positive developments risk a reversal , if the government fails to curb excesses of its members, who among others, foul mouth media. However, last week, Mervyn Silva probably had the last laugh.

Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @RangaJayasuriya on Twitter

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