he country-wide power failure on Sunday -- the second major power outage within three weeks after the new government came to power in January last year saw the second resignation offered by a bigwig on moral grounds. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman Anura Wijepala had announced his resignation even before the power supply was restored on Sunday night, though it was not accepted by the government. Before that, former Law and order Minister Tilak Marapana had tendered his resignation on November 9 last year after making a controversial statement in Parliament in defence of the Avant Garde Security Services (Pvt) Ltd.
The resignation offer by the CEB Chairman came following Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took the island-wide power failure on February 25 so seriously that a special investigation was ordered to be carried out by a five-member committee, which was also unprecedented. The investigations on the previous blackouts had been largely due to technical nature whereas the investigation on the February 25 power failure took somewhat a political colour since it was ordered following a suspicion of sabotage.
However, whatever the backdrop, the CEB Chief’s resignation offer must be treated as unique, since shamelessness among politicians and officials in cases of failures and breach of trust on their part is so widespread and common that acknowledgement of responsibility such as that of Mr. Wijepala cannot be expected by the masses as well as the higher-ups.
There is a difference between Marapana’s resignation and the one offered by Wijepala. The former was said to have been requested to resign whereas the latter volunteered to do so on his own purely on moral grounds, or perhaps in order to pre-empt a similar request from the top. Whatever the case it might have been, the gesture was important.
Sri Lankans are used to recall the former Indian Minister of Railways and Transport Lal Bahadur Shastri who offered his resignation twice after two railway mishaps that killed 256 people as far back as 1956, in contrast to politicians and officials here are reluctant to accept the responsibility for their failures and breach of trust. The then Indian Premier Jawaharlal Nehru stated after the second accident that he did accept the resignation because it would set an example in constitutional propriety and not because Minister Shastri was in any way responsible for the accident.
The sense of responsibility on the part of the authorities -- political and professional -- is essential as they are apparently of the view that now the people should tolerate anything they do in spite of the impact they might have on the people’s lives. They interrup power and water supply in certain areas without any prior notice. One of the best cases in point was about the attitude of the authorities that a fine imposed on the electricity consumers a few years ago, for not reducing the consumption, which was later annulled by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Wijepala may not be responsible in anyway for the recent power failures, but there should be a culture of acknowledging the moral responsibility among politicians and officials for the affairs under their purview. That is the significance of his offer to resign perhaps it was made under pressure by the circumstances and though it was not accepted.