By Srima Warusawithana –
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has echoed the watchword of Royal College when addressing the new recruits to Parliament. Over the years from the time of Don Stephen Senanayake (DS) the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon as SL was called then – I as a septuagenarian cannot recall if ever a speech of this nature, a stern message of this kind was ever made by a party leader or a Prime Minister or Executive President of the country. DS had a philosophy of governance all his own, so had Sir John Kotelawala and Dudley Senanayake the mild and gentle man he was. SWRD with his pancha maha balavegaya – sanga, veda guru, govi, kamkaru steered a more lenient path with commoners like MS Themis – the postal clerk rubbing shoulders with the elite and intellectuals in the cabinet. Themis was a rustic yet the refined conduct of his colleagues in Parliament must have induced in him certain traits of character and conduct acceptable to the legislature. Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike was a disciplinarian and stood no nonsense from her parliamentary group just as she had been a very firm mother to her children – I remember reading an article in a newspaper many years ago how when her children recounted practical jokes and pranks they had played at school, the father SWRD enjoyed hearing these encounters but the mother would give a sideways glance that said ;
“I am not amused”
PM Ranil Wickremesinghe must be the first leader of any party to lay down a set of clear rules to instill discipline into a group of parliamentarians that people have come to associate with unruly behavior, foul mouthing, thuggery and vices of every hue. This type of message was not necessary in the olden days – when parliament comprised of civilized men and women. It was a place where healthy debating and exchange of constructive ideas took place; where most members of the august assembly were well read scholars and intellectuals whose speeches were pure gems of profound thoughts and ideas. One wonders what happened ? a steep decline in decorum, in scholarly men, in refinement. Discipline came with a sound upbringing, and from childhood to adulthood and into responsible persons in parliament, in state employees and in private enterprise, these values stood unshaken in the discharge of ones duties and obligations.
The CCS and CAS officers (Ceylon Civil Service and Ceylon Administrative Service) who rolled the wheels of governance were true role models – they resorted not to evil. – they stood tall in their attitudes and in their actions. I recall some fifty years ago when I was a young teacher in a government school, my staff mate Malini Silva was the wife of Mahinda Silva – a CAS officer noted for his honesty and integrity. Malini said how she was standing at the bus halt waiting to go home and her husband Mahinda Silva going in the same direction after work saw her waiting for the bus but did not stop to give a ride as he was travelling in his official vehicle. Such was the sense of discipline that prevailed in days gone by. When such men retired they took away only their good name and a meager pension and not ill-gotten millions and billions. Today in Sri Lanka, Honesty, integrity, Good character have indeed sunk to abysmal depths.
Prime Minister has uttered a note of caution regarding attendance at parliament sittings. This has been a matter of grave concern as members had developed the habit of being unpunctual or totally absent and neither the speaker nor the party leaders took serious note of these lapses. It had now gone beyond control and therefore the PM’s words of warning are most timely and important.
There was another great point in the PM’s address regarding using the parliament library to spend time reading and expanding their knowledge and he has even suggested what to read. “Reading maketh a full man” so said Francis Bacon but today texting, sms and other distorted language forms used extensively in technology seems to make a person not a full man but a midget.
Once in a while it would be a good idea to set a MCQ test or a Quiz for these parliamentarians on general topics that would test their intelligence, aptitude and knowledge on matters pertaining to governance. If students in schools and Universities and other technical institutes have to face such tests, why not these men and women who are sent to parliament as representatives of the public. They are supposed to be law-makers and therefore must know what happens in the world around them. They enjoy free sumptuous meals, and many another perk as well as a fat pension after 3 years in the assembly, all on tax payers money; so it is only right and proper that their worth is assessed regularly by an independent panel. This would certainly be a better way to test their value rather than through preference votes which is a corrupt method.
Though the Prime Minster has uttered these words of caution and given a stern message it is left to be seen if the message has sunk into the thick skins of the ruffians in the other group in the Assembly. The Prime Minister would really do what he says – true to his watchword – Disce aut Discede – but what about applying the same warning to those in the rogues gallery that consists of rejects who have been given plum portfolios in the coalition. They certainly will be oblivious to any threats or warnings.