Brilliant! Just brilliant! I would have missed the whole episode had it not been for the picture of the monkeys. There they were, about six of them seated on a rock as if in conference. Okay it may not have looked like an ancient convecticle as in the days of Socrates. But then it did [...]


Politics: All about monkey tricks


Brilliant! Just brilliant! I would have missed the whole episode had it not been for the picture of the monkeys. There they were, about six of them seated on a rock as if in conference. Okay it may not have looked like an ancient convecticle as in the days of Socrates. But then it did not resemble a cabinet meeting either. The numbers were not enough. And the monkeys did not seem to be chattering away either. They appeared to be strangely silent.

So I read on, the story that appeared below in this newspaper titled Colombo Times which I had not seen before. It certainly was a more  newsworthy and entertaining story than any I had read in recent days — you know the ones about the 19th Amendment, the 20th Amendment, who can sack the whole ruddy lot without a by-your-leave and who can kick anyone upstairs, downstairs and into his lady’s chamber.

All the budding and budded lawyers those in search of briefs and medical experts who are still trying to make up the numbers of the corona dead, seemed to be beating their brains (what is left that is) out in the print and electronic media and boring the self-isolated into contemplating hara kiri.

Then along came my long-time friend Nihal Jayawickrama, legal academic and Coordinator of the UN-sponsored Judicial Integrity Group and throws a damper on the years’ long debate. Just the other day Justice Minister Ali Sabry gets up in parliament (for the first time as an MP and minister if I am correct) on September 22 and moves 20A amidst plenty of ho ha and ha ho or whatever from the opposition.

Before the dust can settle on the black shawls of the Sajith Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balawegaya on display for desecrating parliamentary democracy, Dr Jayawickrama, a regular writer on legal/political affairs, puts pen to paper as we used to do in our Peradeniya days and announces that there is no such thing called 19A.

“There is no 19A capable of being amended or repealed. It does not exist,” writes Dr Jayawickrama. So what on earth did Justice Minister Ali Sabry PC table in the House? The coronavirus we know exists. Our leaders and others have been telling the world how valiantly they fought to bring it under control.

Equally valiantly our new leaders and their supporters from Viyathmaga and other such intellectual groups like the Socratic gatherings of the past, had flattened the non-existent 19A and left Sirisena and Wickremesinghe athara maga.

So while legal luminaries like Udaya Gammanpila and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe several doctorates — honorary or otherwise — under his belt make a rebuttal to the Jayawickrama argument, we must return to the monkeys that first caused the distraction. At a media conference, former minister and current MP Dilan Perera drew attention to the nuisance caused by troops of monkeys not only in provincial towns and villages but even in the capital city where reside Colombo’s gliterrati and its incessantly chattering classes.

MP Dilan Perera seems not only annoyed by the chaos, damage and mischief caused by this breed of four-legged mammals but the fact that the master craftsmen who put together the new cabinet had paid little or no attention to the problem the monkeys invading the mansions of the high and mighty and the others too.

Perhaps Mr Perera who in early years managed migrant labour and even deftly tackled those who managed to travel abroad with fraudulent passports and doctored documents, felt genuinely peeved that he was not good enough to be found a seat at one of the renamed and newly created  ministries.

He was offering to kill several monkeys with one stone, as it were. He was not asking for much. After all, the former minister was only offering to tame the monkeys. He is not asking for the ministry to solve the human-elephant conflict or even the ministry of batik-making, or the ministry of gam miris or kaha wagawe.

So detailed were those ministerial posts that it seemed like war maps pinned to the walls of a war room before a military manoeuvre. Nothing wrong in that of course! If you are fighting a war against corona you cannot be lax about following the medical advice. I mean one cannot gather kos ata without marshalling the jackfruit. But it seemed that somebody had dummied past an inattentive back row exposing the gaps in the portfolios.

Anyway here was this former minister and current MP wailing, as it were, not about being dropped from the team but about a critical issue of the troublesome mammals. Anybody who knows anything about monkeys and their kind should know they are a tricky and clever lot. They often act in unison especially when they go out on a foray. They have increasing turned into extremely sharp lot.

So what does Dilan Perera do? He offers to take on the post of Minister or State minister overlooking the control of the fast expanding monkey army if it is offered to him. He is clever as a monkey. After all he went to a school where he would have learnt all the tricks of the trade and outside it.

So first he alerts the multitude to what havoc these animals could cause as they advance farther into areas of human livelihood and learn more and more about human behavior. That should frighten our two-legged mammals and alert then to take sustainable precautions.

Having driven concern and fright into people everywhere he delivers the coup de grace. He says that before long monkeys would enter parliament. So what is there to be concerned about? Scant wonder, President Gotabaya Rajpaksa appears to have little respect for parliament. I mean monkeys have long entered parliament. It was not too long ago that MPs started throwing bibles and Hansards around. A day or two later they were throwing chilli powder at other MPs and the police who had entered the chamber to protect the Speaker. So much like monkeys, really.

Is this the way that respectable parliamentarians behaved in the past? Hardly! If monkeys are roaming around Mattegoda as Dilan Perera says then they — I mean the monkeys — cannot be far from Diyawanna Oya if they have not already crossed the waters.

Once 20A gets over the hurdles as Justice Minister Sabry expects and new ministers/state ministers are added to burgeoning portfolios, Dilan Perera might well get his wish — Minister of Monkeys as the media calls it but minister for monkeys as we would like it to be.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor, Diplomatic Editor and Political Columnist of the Hong Kong Standard before moving to London where he worked for Gemini News Service. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London before returning to journalism.)

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