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Return from a protracted silence

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By Emil van der Poorten

The disgust that I felt as the political scene continued to unfold in Sri Lanka made it extremely hard to emerge from a sense of despondency and seek to offer something akin to analysis, leave alone hope, at such a time.

That said, there is also the truism that Martin Luther King Jr. voiced that goes: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

The sentiments expressed in those words are my reason for returning to the keyboard!

Sri Lanka’s primary English language paper’s front page, banner headline story last Sunday could well have encapsulated the whinging hypocrisy that drove that mood better than any novelist could have written it. That story recounted the moral outrage of one individual in the matter of some kind of imminent tender for an enormous amount of money for Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). 

The single authority quoted expressing immense moral outrage was a man who had what could be described as one of the more chequered careers in recent Sri Lankan history. It did, in fact, provoke the truism, “Consider the source” when seeking to analyse the content and thrust of the opinion.

The history of this man from the time of the Rajapaksas, when he was one of the anointed and in charge of exploring for “black gold” off the coast of north-west Sri Lanka, is symptomatic of what prevails in Sri Lanka today.  Of course, like many of his predecessors in that exploratory endeavour, he claimed that oil (and gas?) was there for the taking and all kinds of economic miracles would follow for us energy-starved Sri Lankans. We are still waiting for the dawn of that particular day.

Again, during the time of the Rajapaksa regime this same individual was alleged to have signed cheques for the construction of, literally, thousands of houses not one of which had been constructed for those in northern Sri Lanka who had lost basic shelter through the havoc and ravages of war.  The signing of those cheques was, indeed, admirable except for the fact that not one house was built! In the euphoria that followed the change of government this man was charged and taken into custody and promptly followed the usual routine of entering a hospital bed where he spent his time until bail was allowed without too much time being wasted.

Shortly after his emergence from custody, the same Government that had charged him with this huge malfeasance, appointed him to oversee essentially the same work in oil and gas exploration as he had been entrusted with by his previous patron, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the same part of the coast.  Here he proceeded (again) to make optimistic projections much like those he had spouted at the time he served the Rajapaksa regime. The result was the same in terms of oil and gas output as it has been since the time of Prime Minister Sirmavo Bandaranaike a half-century ago – nothing, nada, zilch.

Most recently, again under the wing of the Yahapalanaya Government, he was appointed to the most senior post in the new administration of the Chinese-sponsored port development authority on the home turf of his erstwhile guru and mentor, Mahinda Rajapaksa. As a footnote, it should be added that he did not have exactly a sterling record when he had filled similar shoes in the administration of the Port of Colombo (also during the suzerainty of Mahinda Rajapaksa).

No writer of fiction in their wildest flight of imagination could have made up the preceding narrative!

But it is the total non-performance in the matter of results that flows from this kind of irrational and corrupt practice that leads to what those of us dwelling in rural Sri Lanka have to endure in our day-to-day lives.

Recently, one of our longest-standing employees experienced chest pains that, particularly given his approaching three-score-and-ten year milestone, gave cause for concern. He was promptly dispatched to the local hospital where, given the nature of his distress, it was decided to send him post haste to the (Teaching) Hospital in Kandy. When the ambulance driver was sought to make the transfer, it was discovered that worthy, without a word of explanation, had chosen not to inform the hospital that he would not be at work after his leave had expired!

An ambulance was sought from a neighbouring hospital but that too was not deemed feasible given the time it would take for the vehicle to get to the hospital from which the patient was to be moved. Ultimately, despite the fact that the jarring journey was thought anything but ideal under normal circumstances, the patient’s son’s three-wheeler (“tuk-tuk”) was employed for the journey to Kandy Teaching Hospital.

Fortunately, the condition does not appear to have been as serious as originally diagnosed and the patient survived both the chest pains and the very bumpy three-wheeler ride of about an hour to the Teaching Hospital.

You might well ask how the latter anecdote is relevant to what this narrative began with.

When people get away with all kinds of corruption and incompetence, indifference to the basic rules follows and that indifference comes home, like the proverbial chickens, to roost in our day-to-day lives, often with tragic outcomes. To further explain the implications of the corruption that adversely affects the everyday lives of every Banda and Seelawathi in this country, remember that many of those displaying gross irresponsibility in the performance of their duties owe their positions to some corrupt politician who, with or without the inducement of a bribe, used their authority to have such louts given employment.

In case you want the rest of that story in block capital letters: those holding positions of responsibility in the alleged “service” sector by virtue of some politician’s “influence” cannot be touched by those supposedly wielding authority over them in the matter of disciplinary action for any act of malfeasance.

The results of contravention of what might seem like rules and regulations driven by “airy-fairy” moral considerations have very direct and practical impacts on every man, woman and child in our country. 

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