29th October 2000
Front Page
Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports|
Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine
The Sunday Times on the Web

Thoughts from London

You made your bed; now lie on it

By Neville de Silva
History, said Marx, re-peats itself first as tragedy and then as farce.

In this world of globalised capitalism, many would dismiss his thoughts as Marxian shibboleths.

Even if today's money-makers from Moscow's mafia to Colombo's arms dealers reject the whole cornucopia of Marxian thought, his observation about history stands truly vindicated- at least in the context of Sri Lanka's recent politics.

Six years ago the Peoples' Alliance campaigned for power with a plethora of promises. One of them, which I applauded then from far away, was that it would not have a cabinet of more than 20 ministers if elected to power.

That, like so many other promises, litters the road to Temple Trees. Hardly had the PA won the election than Prime Minister Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appointed a cabinet as long as her name.

It was a cabinet of 23 ministers, breaking the first of those promises faithfully held out to the people.

That should have served as a warning that more shenanigans were to follow. If the promise to cut the cabinet down to a reasonable and manageable size could be so blatantly violated even before there was time to warm the seats of power, then would it not be rational for people to expect that other promises would fall as quickly by the wayside?

Those who thought so at the time were subsequently proved correct. Not only did the size of the cabinet surpass expectations, it was improved upon as the years rolled by until the last administration ended with 38 ministers.

Even at that time students of politics started scouring the world to find a comparable cabinet.

Comparable, not for its intellectual weight, its capabilities and its political rectitude. One would have been hard put to find another as distinguished as this, had one world enough and time to search not only this world but the entire solar system.

Even at the simplest level- in terms of sheer numbers- one cannot think of a country that would fit the bill. Today the United Kingdom has one of the biggest-if not the biggest- cabinet it has ever had. That is because New Labour's Tony Blair decided to distribute a few to his cronies.

But even with this unprecedented largesse from New Labour, the cabinet remains less than 25 ministers. This, despite the fact that Britain's economy is far, far healthier than that of Sri Lanka and with a much higher per capita income.

Therein lies the tragedy. We are told ad infinitum and ad nauseam that Sri Lanka is at war, that it needs money to fight a war. Only the other day President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was saying that if we had the money we could buy modern weapons. The government imposes this levy, that levy and the other levy, in the name of earning revenue to continue the fight to retain our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

A hapless people are made to pay through their noses or whatever part of the anatomy through which they are able to pay, for bare necessities.

Sri Lanka is not receiving the direct foreign investment it would have received had it been a peaceful place to invest capital in without fear of disruption of its economy.

Every single social and economic indicator tells us that there is a need to conserve resources in order to put them to greater and more productive use. It does not require a degree from Sorbonne or even a diploma from a nondescript Paris polytechnic to understand and appreciate simple economics that even a corner-boutique banana seller will learn quickly enough from experience.

If such basic facts are beyond the understanding of the advisers to this government, all they have to do is ask the foreign minister who is clocking sufficient air miles- pro rata- to give even one of his predecessors, A.C.S Hameed a run for the government's money.

Even if Foreign Minister Kadirgamar asks all his colleagues at the UN, I'll bet anything he wouldn't find a cabinet large enough to accommodate 38 persons of varying sizes, shapes and usefulness.

So comes October 2000. The election is over. People have been murdered, votes have been stuffed, thugs have ruled in Kandy, the last kingdom to fall to the British through treachery and deceit which obviously still exists there generations later, a supreme insult to the Temple of the Tooth.

Herein lies the farce that Marx (Karl not Groucho) spoke of, though I have little doubt Groucho would have enjoyed the joke perpetrated on the Sri Lankan people.

I wonder how Ronnie de Mel- poor chap ended up with ports and southern development instead of the finance portfolio which he doubtless favoured-who used to preach to all and sundry about not wasting scarce resources would justify this waste.

If Mr de Mel wishes to develop the port he'd better start with those portholes through which many things seem to slip out of the port.

And who is the mastermind who carved up all these portfolios? I wonder whether anyone has really counted the number of times the word development appears in the portfolios. Well, it is 17 times and Ronnie de Mel has the dubious distinction of having it twice in his portfolio. To think that with all these intellectuals at its command, all the PA could come up with was development.

But even then they missed out on a key one. Why is there no ministry for personal development. Or is it taken for granted that sustainable development in this regard could be expected without special mention.

Personally I have a quarrel with the allocation of ministries. Take Douglas Devananda. His portfolio reads "Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the North and Tamil Affairs, North and East". The last time he tried to develop some Tamil affairs, there was quite a strident complaint from residents of Park Road. Maybe this will confine himself to the north and east and with Ronnie de Mel looking after the south, there's still room for a minister to do something in the west, possibly ruin it.

What of Nimal Siripala de Silva? From health to telecommunications. Surely a wrong choice. Somebody said that he has had problems of communication and he should have changed portfolios with Sumedha Jayasinghe, the new minister of Women's Affairs.

I have no idea what that means but let me say this. This government has already failed in its task. There is no portfolio for employment.

Unless of course, it is felt that by the time the deputy ministers and diplomatic posts and directorships in sundry institutions are handed out the employment problem would have been long solved- at least in the Peoples' Alliance.

Somebody once said that people deserve the government they get. Well, you make your bed, you lie on it.

PS: I'm reliably informed by diplomatic sources in London that there is no truth to the rumour that Cabinet meetings will henceforth be held at the BMICH. 

High suicide rate: A matter for concern

By Nilika de Silva
A million rupees spent in the area of suicide prevention will save more lives than a million rupees spent in cardiology, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Prof. Andrew Sims said. 

Prof. Sims was demonstrating the urgent need for action in the field of suicide prevention, especially in Sri Lanka where the suicide rate is overwhelming. 

The high suicide rate is not a matter for shame but a matter for concern, stressed Professor Sims addressing an audience comprising psychiatrists, psychologists and others dedicated to the field of mental health in Sri Lanka. 

Prof. Sims' lecture titled 'Development of Mental Health Services, Challenges and Opportunities' was held last week to commemorate World Mental Health Day, at Sahanaya, the National Council for Mental Health. 

The stigma attached to mental illness is international and universal, it is everywhere and is very harmful for patients, Prof. Sims said, going onto describe how it even affected other physicians who often avoided mentioning the word psychiatrist as they thought it carried negative connotations. 

While a whole new range of anti-depressant drugs to fight depression and anxiety and a range of anti-psychotic drugs are available to treat schizophrenia in the past few years, this has also created the need for better trained psychiatrists, Prof. Sims said.

Index Page
Front Page
Sports Plus
Mirrror Magazine

More Plus

Return to Plus Contents


Plus Archives

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Plus| Business| Sports| Sports Plus| Mirror Magazine

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to 

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.
Hosted By LAcNet