By Emil van der Poorten –
Those of us who grew up in other times need to be forgiven for falling back on aphorisms from those times!
One of those sayings was that which is the title of this contribution and has its more modern version that goes, “What goes around, comes around” which, in turn, can be viewed in the same light as Newton’s Third Law which goes, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
The incompetence that flows from the corruption in administration of public institutions was brought home to us a few days ago when one of our employees had to continue his sojourn in his home village, originally required by the death and funeral of his father, when his teenage son came down with severe abdominal pain. The young man was “warded” in the local hospital and was being treated for what was diagnosed as either gallstones or kidney stones. This appeared to be a rather unusual malady for a youngster of that age and the boy’s father, after initial acceptance of the diagnosis, began to express his doubts and, acting on “gut instinct,” insisted on the boy being discharged from the rural hospital. He then “channeled” a specialist in the Hill Capital who wanted the youth admitted immediately to the provincial hospital where he underwent urgent surgery for removal of the obstruction. That there was an element of urgency in the need for surgery for the young man was most evident by the fact that he was admitted to a surgical ward which was, by all accounts, grossly over-crowded with patients sharing beds, some under the beds and some beside them! He was discharged after the removal of the kidney or gall stones the very next day which did sound rather odd given the fact that he would be returning to his home village, several hours away from treatment in the hospital at which he was operated if such emergency care was needed. Not a great fate for anyone in a country which used to have free health care not so long ago and where life and death appears to now be dependent on the spin of a wheel of chance!
If is fortunate that a lay-person of very limited academic education was persistent and insistent enough in the matter of facing down medical authority to ensure a relatively unorthodox course of action – disputing the medical opinion of a doctor. The chain of circumstantial evidence is obvious enough and points very clearly to what could well have ended up as medical misadventure leading to death. However, this kind of thing is symptomatic of what goes on in many rural institutions, medical and otherwise.
Shortly, after this excursion into the medical services of the nation, the authorities at the school which his second son, in his early teens, attends sends home a demand to the effect that his father has to provide five (continuous) days of labour in the school, repairing its furniture. Now, what makes this exercise even more complicated is the fact that the mother of this boy and his two siblings works in one of the Gulf States and the boys, except for an ailing grandmother have no adult supervision or care, their father being in our employ many miles away.
Off goes our worthy because failure to act when summoned by the school apparently can have dire results for the student! I haven’t had time to “de-brief” the man since his five day stint as repairman in one of our government-funded (if you’ll pardon the very loose use of the term) schools, but I imagine that he performed his tasks with acceptance because, otherwise, his return would, I am sure, have been further delayed!
The primary victims of this state of affairs are the poorer elements of our society in rural Sri Lanka. They are left with little but mulish persistence to save themselves and their dependents from the callousness, indifference or arrogance of those in “authority.”
Is there a lesson in these little episodes for the rest of us? Yes, there certainly is because even the more affluent among us will not be spared similar circumstances where someone with more authority than you or I will make that authority prevail because that is the culture that has been established in this country.
This kind of arrogant wielding of power is only made worse by a cadre of incompetent government “servants” being bolstered by the continuing, blatantly political, appointment of even more arrogant and inefficient appointees who believe, rightly, that their positions are sacrosanct and, in no way, subject to approval by a public that has to bear the brunt of that arrogance and incompetence (and foot the bill for it!) If, by some rare chance, the supervising officer of this phalanx of incompetents happens to be that rarity – an honest, competent member of the government service – he is likely to soon be the victim of tale-carrying to some uneducated bozo, wielding political authority, and able to threaten and even perhaps subject him to physical violence or, at the least, transfer to some particularly inhospitable part of our Paradise Isle!
Incidents of the kind I have described are not aberrations. They are a part of day-to-day life for the mainstream of Sri Lanka’s citizenry in a land where might is right and impunity is the order of the day, starting from the very top of the pyramid of power. The fact that those who established this state of affairs and preside over it are uncultured ignoramuses who wouldn’t know a principle if it bit them in the most vulnerable part of their anatomy only makes it worse. And what, pray, provides them with the untrammeled ability to impose all of this on the citizenry as a whole? It is simply the complicity of the “elites” and “wannabe-elites” of this country who are slavering at the foot of the table in anticipation of crumbs from. That the acolytes of those who are currently practicing impunity without limit will one day be at the receiving end of what their patrons are now dishing out to the rest of us is inevitable. Their turn will come, as surely as night follows day, but it will be cold comfort for those who have already been victims of that regime and some of whom might not even be around to witness Judgement Day thanks to what results from the corruption and incompetence in what is inappropriately referred to as “the service sector.”