One law for all, they said. The citizenry roared in approval. For what seemed like eons the populace of the Resplendent Isle had been waiting for just leaders. At last the princes and paupers were to be judged under the same laws. How low can they get, thought the upper crust and the deal makers, [...]


The days of low and odour!


One law for all, they said.

The citizenry roared in approval. For what seemed like eons the populace of the Resplendent Isle had been waiting for just leaders. At last the princes and paupers were to be judged under the same laws. How low can they get, thought the upper crust and the deal makers, to try us along with the hoi polloi.

But the knowing people knew, as the saying goes.

Out with nepotism, they said.

Like the Roman citizens who had gathered by the body of the assassinated Caesar, they urged Anthony to read Caesar’s will. When Anthony did and the citizens heard what Caesar had bequeathed to the people of Rome, they burst into sustained applause. They urged Mark Anthony to read on. And the more he did, the more the people praised the slain Caesar.

O mighty Caesar, why did they get rid of you when you had done so much for us, left us all the parks and the walkways so that we could lead a healthy life, the citizenry lamented.

But over in the country like no other a healthy life is hard to develop with the rupee what it is and everybody grabbing the cow dung for fertiliser.

Meritocracy will decide who gets the plum jobs hereafter, they said. Oh yeah?

The competent and the qualified cheered awaiting the new dawn when they would get their rightful places in the administrative hierarchy and other slots and places where the qualified, educated and the professionals were required if this country like no other was to break loose from the moorings of political influence, interference, cronyism and chumocracy.

If one might slightly twist the words of Shakespeare, it was a Daniel come not to judgment but to bring order to the country from years of chaos and confusion. Or so the people thought.

If today the citizenry go about with glum faces and in sullen silence, it is not because a pandemic has enveloped the country increasingly susceptible to new variants of the virus or because meritocracy is not to be found anywhere. It is because the pundits or pandithayas don’t want it found.

Those with the medical and scientific qualifications and experience to handle this pandemic have been shunted to secondary positions or no positions at all while some with pips and others with chips on their shoulders have replaced the learned in the subject.

Be sure, today there is a sullen silence, one gathers from what one reads and hears, because there is a general mess in dealing with the spreading virus as politicians break the health laws and ignore the rules while medical specialists and health workers are hard pressed to get their voices heard and their advice accepted.

News reports — not fake one presumes as even the State media quotes the Police media spokesman on this — say that last Wednesday 448 persons were arrested for violating “quarantine” laws. This was mainly for not wearing face masks.

There had also been pictures previously in the media of the police carrying away violators of the health regulations and dumping them in vehicles to be taken where, one does not rightly know.

Obviously wearing face masks is an essential part of preventing contracting the virus. In fact, Dr Sudarshani Fernandopulle, State Minister for Covid Disease Control among other responsibilities, in a recent statement recommended wearing two face masks which shows the importance of covering part of the face as a preventive measure.

Quite often the Government and its officials admonish the public for failing to adhere to these preventive measures announced by health authorities. But then those who preach to the people on social conduct must lead the way and act as a beacon to be followed.

Imagine then the spectacle of seeing the Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera seated in the front row at some official event without a face mask while all others beside and behind him are seen wearing their masks including a person in camouflage dress at one end of the front row.

His decision to dispense with a face mask which is considered an essential requirement and a violation of existing health regulations especially at some organised event where others are present, might well be described, as public figures have done, as a deliberate act of impunity and a macho performance.

As has been said a picture is worth a thousand words and a picture of the maskless Weerasekera did the rounds last week followed by a series of comments and jokes not to mention a cartoon in an English-language daily of a protesting minister being carted away by three policemen.

One comment appears to have some credence. It says that since Minister Weerasekera has been a vociferous advocate of banning the face covering for Muslim women perhaps he thought he should remove his own mask as an example!

The Public Security Minister is not the only one in the cabinet who in the last few days has conducted himself with crass impunity, we gather. There was widespread public criticism of Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge after he saw to the lifting of Covid-control restrictions that had been clamped on the Kesbewa-Piliyandala area by the responsible medical officers who are authorised to take necessary steps to minimise the spread of the virus.

Had the public been informed that Minister Lokuge, a long time politician who has been on at least two sides of the political divide like many of our politicians who have established long jump records, is a recently-approved specialist in Covid prevention and control, the public might have accepted his countermanding the instructions of the authorised and medically-qualified without a murmur.

But there has been no such communication to the public on his suddenly-acquired expertise. Scant wonder, officials in parliament are fighting shy of disclosing the educational qualifications of the people’s representatives lest they are forced to cover up blank spaces.

The odour of dysfunctionality is unmistakable. Though the ruling SLPP appears to have developed an admiration for the governance style of the Chinese Communist Party — even Education Minister GL Peiris appears to be leaning in that direction — watching the government’s policy-making and implementation it is more like what Lenin called “One step forward, two steps back”. And, one might add, a lurch sideways now and then.

In the midst of all this meddle and muddle, a presidential spin doctor has thought it fit to crown the president with having, in a single communication with the head of the World Health Organisation, got him to approve in the blink of an eye, as it were, the Chinese anti-Covid vaccine Sinopharm.

Before long the WHO blew this outrageous claim sky high. If this story is true then it is time to select some good spinners who can also bowl the Chinaman. Now that Hitler is back on the shelf as a role model for Sri Lanka’s leaders and ardent advocates of Hitlerite rule such as Dilum Amunugama are to have their egos buttressed with some 28,000 storm troopers to aid the grama niladharies, would it not be prudent to select propagandists with more Goebelsian cunning?

I mean applying meritocracy, as will surely happen when some 40 recruits are absorbed to the foreign service as we have heard. Would they follow the Lucky Six absorbed recently — the progeny of ministers and politicians also recruited undoubtedly on merit?

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.)


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