In those golden days when there was no pandemic to hide from and the forces of law and order respected the law and applied it equally, there was a story circulating about Mapitigama Buddharakkita Thero, the chief monk at the time of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihare. The then Health Minister Wimala Kannangara appointed the [...]


Will chop and shuffle end the trouble


In those golden days when there was no pandemic to hide from and the forces of law and order respected the law and applied it equally, there was a story circulating about Mapitigama Buddharakkita Thero, the chief monk at the time of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihare.

The then Health Minister Wimala Kannangara appointed the chief monk to the Ayurveda Board which came under her ministry. When news broke about the monk’s appointment, a journalist had asked Buddharakkita Thero what he knew about Ayurveda, the ancient system of medicine, to serve on the board.

“I know nothing about Ayurveda,” the chief monk candidly admitted, the story goes. “So I can have an open mind about what needs to be done”, he reportedly said.

When I laughed away the story as apocryphal my senior colleagues of the day swore it was not a fake story made up in the news room to entertain foreign diplomats who dropped in now and then for a chat and gather news and views for their political reports to their capitals.

That came to mind as I read of the cabinet reshuffle back in Colombo, the first since the SLPP Government assumed office a little over one year ago.

Many thousands of battered citizens caught between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes, might well have wondered as I did, what this shuffling meant and what it was intended to achieve.

If cricketing aficionados wondered whether selecting cabinet ministers has been outsourced to  Sri Lanka Cricket or Chinese researchers from Wuhan from where originated most of our current maladies, that would make sense.

The manner in which our cricket team has been chopped and changed to make it look like a Mukunuwanna Mallung, it is a scant surprise that the cabinet changes seem like Sri Lanka Cricket had its contaminated hands in it.

It would appear that two Thomians, one from Gurutalawa and the other from Mount Lavinia, have been selected to open the innings — Keheliya Rambukwella and GL Peiris — the two most significant changes.

Now that the Royal-Thomian annual cricket encounter is unlikely to be played breaking a more than 140-year tradition, thanks to President Xi Jinping some say, reserving the opening slots for two Thomians also makes sense.

But after that the middle order batting is as ludicrously brittle as Sri Lanka Cricket’s own batting line-up has shown to be. Still in the midst of all this public ho-ha, sending a ship to India to pick up oxygen, calling on Pakistan to send several metric tonnes of rice- — our stable food — until that utterly ill-advised sudden plunge into the organic fertiliser mess kicks in before the maestro who proposed it is kicked out by the public, there was this unexpected part of the shuffle which was not exactly a shuffle but a positioning for the future.

While portfolios were exchanged as though it was already Christmas, there was one large present for one of the Rajapaksa clan, another former Thomian, intended perhaps to stiffen the tail in the batting line up. Thereby hangs a tale.

Namal Rajapaksa, already the Minister of Sports and Youth and State Minister of Digital Technology and Enterprise Development, was crowned with a brand new ministry- Development Planning and Monitoring.

One would have thought that the young Rajapaksa had enough on his plate trying to keep some of the country’s sports bodies from running ‘wild’ as some claim of Sri Lanka Cricket, which the chairman of COPE Prof. Charitha Herath had made several strictures.

Now comes more juicy information through a former university and journalist colleague of mine, the New York-based Thalif Deen, who forwarded without comment, a dispatch he had received. That message speaks of Sri Lanka’s presence at the recent Tokyo Olympics which Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa attended.

If the information contained is correct it would come as a real shokku, as the Japanese would say, to the Sri Lankan public. Sri Lanka sent nine competitors, many of whom are based abroad. They were accompanied by 17 officials. There is even more information but it cannot be revealed now for space restrictions.

A look at the list of functions and responsibilities assigned to young Namal under his new ministry reads partly like a pharmacopoeia for rural resurrection. Along with the former tasks it makes a nice chop suey. To make a success of it all would surely require divine intervention.

GL Peiris’s role of international appeasement is understandable after the chaos and confusion in our foreign policy where neutrality means a slavish obeisance to China. With dangers lying ahead in Geneva next month and the European Parliament breathing fire at government actions that are seen to trample on human rights and freedom of association and speech, the EU is unlikely to take lightly the macho attitude of some ministers who are more keen on presenting to the public a Rambo persona.

Only the other day our Ambassador in Brussels Grace Asirwatham pressed the alarm over our trade with the EU countries and the quality of our export products that stand to be rejected.

But most surprising is Rambukwella’s appointment as health minister. Medical specialists and health sector professionals have been warning for months about the dire consequences of the way the authorities were handling the Covid pandemic.

The mounting death tolls now might have been mitigated if those warnings by medical experts had not been shunned or ignored apparently by the military-led Task Force which appears ill-equipped for the medical task and others.

This was a tailor-made situation in which to have a medically-qualified person at the apex of the health ministry. One can understand if the governing SLPP had no qualified doctors in its ranks to fill the slot and provide some professional guidance

That opportunity to have a medically qualified person has been squandered for whatever reason, though inch
by reluctant inch the authorities retreat in response to the professional and public outcry.

I have no quarrel with open minds. But then some of them should be closed for repairs.

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

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