Brilliance and bravery or arrogance and craftiness?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Daily FT newspaper dated 9 May carried an interesting interview with Wimal Weerawansa, Minister of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities. The Minister spoke about a number of important issues. Of course, he is entitled to express his views candidly and frankly. Whether or not one agrees with him, his right to do so must always be respected. However, the right to this freedom of expression must be tempered by responsibility in exercising it. In his interview, Minister Weerawansa launched a vicious personal attack on a very senior public servant. By no stretch of the imagination can this be construed as a responsible exercising of his right to speak freely for a number of reasons. First, the Minister claims that Dr. P.B. Jayasundera walked into his position as the Secretary to the Treasury (ST) without doing anything to assist in winning the 2005 election. It is extraordinary to take a career public servant to task for not having assisted in election year. This horribly distorted world view reflects the type of mindset that has led to the politicisation of key institutions, like the public service, much to the detriment of the people of this country. Secondly, Minister Weerawansa made some derisory remarks regarding Dr. Jayasundera’s longevity in office. The Minister would do well to consider the trials and tribulations that the country has experienced during the current ST’s tenure in office. He has held this office at a time when the country was: (1) gripped by a vicious civil war; (2) affected by a devastating tsunami; and (3) exposed to the effects of the ‘great recession’ following the global financial crisis. The Sri Lankan economy has been ‘shaken and stirred’ but not brought down by these potentially cataclysmic events. If he was objective, the Minister would surely see Dr. Jayasundera’s efforts in assisting the steering of the economy through these problems as the explanation why successive leaders have kept Dr. Jayasundera in his post as ST. The President, who is also the Finance Minister, appoints the ST. Dr. Jayasundera cannot remain in office without his support. The President clearly has a better understanding of his calibre and the vital role he has played in difficult times. Thirdly, Minister Weerawansa alleges that Dr. Jayasundera has transformed the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ into a version of ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’. This allegation does not stand up to scrutiny. If the Minister is unhappy with the direction of the Government’s economic policy, he should direct his fire at the President and his Cabinet colleagues, not at public officials like Dr. Jayasundera. If he lacks the courage to do so, then silence would seem a wiser and fairer course of action. Finally, Minister Weerawansa takes great pains to claim that he is not interested in the perks of his office. This seems disingenuous and difficult to believe. He seems to disagree very fundamentally with the Government’s economic policies directed by the President as the Minister of Finance. Despite this, he continues in office. While he remains in office, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Minister Weerawansa’s liking for the perks of his Ministerial position are greater than his commitment to his principles. He may well be better served in considering this, rather than launching unfounded attacks on senior public servants. Doing this while knowing that they cannot defend their reputation by responding in public reeks of cowardice. Of course, all this could be pre-election grandstanding and craftiness. Lack of formal education or lack of intelligence or lack of political maturity does not justify anyone demonstrating undue arrogance and loud-mouthed behaviour. Lasith Cumaranatunge