Muslim view of the Faiz Mohideen case
By Izeth Hussain
The coverage of the Faiz Mohideen case in The Sunday Times
of May 23 could come to be seen as having a historic importance.
It was covered in a news report right at the top of the front page,
also in the ST Financial Times, and most notably in the centre page
column of the Political Editor.
me recall for the reader's benefit a few of the salient facts about
this case. Faiz Mohideen got a First Class Honours degree in econometrics
at the prestigious London School of Economics. Thereafter he had
a distinguished career as an official at the Ministry of Planning
and the General Treasury where he rose to the position of Deputy
Secretary. But a Cabinet paper was prepared proposing his immediate
removal from that post and consignment to the so-called "pool".
The proposal was approved straightway instead of after a week as
is reportedly the usual practice. Mohideen received his marching
orders on May 6, which appears to have provoked among his astonished
colleagues a show of sympathetic solidarity with him. Mohideen thereafter
sent in his retirement papers.
story is that this sudden and inglorious end to a distinguished
career was the consequence of the new Secretary to the Treasury
complaining to the President that he would not be able to work with
Mohideen. It appears that the relevant Minister, Sarath Amunugama,
was out of the country at the time of these developments. It was
not expected that he would take corrective action on his return.
is not the first time that a Muslim official has been given what
looks like pariah dog treatment. At the time the 1977 Government
assumed office the three most senior Muslim officials were all given
this kind of treatment. But that did not draw the attention of the
media. The generous coverage given by The Sunday Times to the Faiz
Mohideen case seems to have a historic importance.
case can be viewed from two different perspectives. One is that
of the relationship between the administrators and the politicians.
In that perspective the Political Editor wrote, "Humiliation
of public officials by politicians has become endemic in our society."
I need to add to the forceful presentation made by him.
other perspective is that of ethnicity, with the focus more particularly
on the Muslims. There has been serious discrimination against Muslims
in the Administration, particularly at the higher levels. It is
therefore legitimate, or rather it is necessary, to look at the
Faiz Mohideen case in an ethnic perspective.
must first contextualise this case by mentioning some horrible facts
about the ethnic imbroglio in which Sri Lanka finds itself. This
imbroglio is the result of a colossal failure in nation-building.
There are two obvious desiderata for nation-building in multi-ethnic
countries such as Sri Lanka. One is that there should be no discrimination
against minorities. The other is that priority should be given to
the clearing up of misunderstanding that could lead to inter-ethnic
disharmony and possibly conflict.
reader may not share my bleak view about the prospects for a negotiated
solution, but there certainly will be a wide measure of agreement
that after all the ethnic turmoil we have known, it will be sheer
madness for a Government to indulge in discrimination at the present
stage. It therefore came as a great surprise to many Muslims, that
there was not even one Muslim among the forty and more Ministry
Secretaries appointed recently. The Sunday Leader in noting this
fact, noted also that there were only two Tamils among the Secretaries.
Clearly there are Sinhalese who believe that the Government is indulging
in anti-minority discrimination.
may be that the Government has excellent reasons for what it has
done, and the impression of discrimination is a mistaken one. In
that case, the Government should fill the second desideratum I mentioned
about the clearing up of misunderstandings. I must state in advance
that it will not be an excuse to hold that none of the Ministers
wanted a Muslim Secretary. That will be tantamount to saying that
there is systemic or institutional discrimination. In that case,
the system should be changed forthwith, not perpetuated.
the Faiz Mohideen case also there has been Sinhalese indignation
over what looks like pariah dog treatment, though most Sinhalese
will not see that in ethnic terms. But most Muslims who hear about
it will certainly do so. Again, the Government may have reasons
for what it has done, in which case it should clear up the misunderstanding.
Failure to do so will mean that the Government does not have a grasp
of even the most basic desiderata for nation-building. In that case,
Sri Lanka may be doomed to disintegrate.
must add a couple of concluding observations. It is a commonplace
that a negotiated solution will be possible only on the basis of
a very wide measure of devolution, so wide that in my view it will
probably set off centrifugal forces that could lead to the final
breakup of Sri Lanka.
is imperative therefore that devolution be counterbalanced by measures
and institutions that could set up a centripetal, that is a centralising,
momentum. An important, or rather essential, requirement for this
purpose will be the participation by the minorities as equals in
the central institutions of the state, including the Administration.
In this situation, discrimination against minority members in the
Administration amounts to criminal irresponsibility.