25 May, 2022


Do You Know The Way To Latimer House?

By Ravi Perera

Ravi Perera

Although   the way to San Jose could be inquired for   more musically   , finding the way to Latimer House has apparently become a lot more urgent to those in Sri Lanka. In the past two months we have seen so many, high brow, middling and even those who wouldn’t know the difference between Latimer and a latrine attempting to give guided tours of that evidently significant house in England.  Even eminent figures like Ranil Wickramasinghe the leader of the opposition, and Rohitha Bogollagama former Minister for foreign affairs have taken upon themselves the burden of explaining the importance of this house to those of us living a good 8,500 Kilometers from Great Britain.

It is a fact of our post colonial existence that operational methods, precedence and traditions of foreign institutions particularly those such as parliaments and courts of law are of significant relevance to our institutions. For example, where on any aspect our parliament has no clear regulations, we will look at the practices of the British Parliament for guidance. Similarly, although not binding, judgments of foreign courts have enormous persuasive value in our courts. In addition, we as a country have periodically endorsed various international covenants which also oblige us to comply with standards they import.

Before the European colonization began, the world was a very large place. In those times it was inconceivable for a person born in Sri Lanka to make a trip to Europe; for that matter for a man living in Anuradhapura even to travel to Matara would have been a formidable undertaking. Distances then were true frontiers. In those times it is unlikely that Sri Lanka would have had a population of more than a few hundred thousand, most of them living in the settled agricultural lands in the North Central areas.  A good part of the island was covered with thick jungle, where evil spirits lived and wild animals roamed.  The traveler to Matara would have had to find his way through the jungle with only barely visible tracks to walk on. Such a journey would have been an adventure   that would be attempted only by the bravest and that too only once in a life time.

In ancient times different civilizations, established in various parts of the world, seem to have existed with only a vague idea of the other. Unless there was a physical threat from one, what one civilization did was of little consequence to another. But during the five centuries of European colonization and thereafter, the world has contracted immensely. While the physical   shrinking has been tremendous, the contraction in the minds of men, in terms of identification   as well as the sense of unification with other, dissimilar races, is even more remarkable. As a consequence, a judge of a Sri Lankan court does not feel any discomfiture in wearing the robes and wigs as worn by an English judge, of an altogether different culture and climate. When the Speaker of Parliament walks in with the  Mace (carried by a servant of the parliament) to a house divided into government benches and that of the opposition, he  does not feel awkward in the least in mimicking the ideas, customs and traditions of a European race which had subjugated his ancestors with the force of weapons. We often see members of parliament, dressed in the national costume, raising issues of parliamentary privileges and powers just like they do in the big house by the Thames.

But is this adaptation so easy and simple? Can a race of people with a totally different history, culture, ways of looking at things and even physical appearance copy and mimic ways and methods of another race and make them work as well? After all, the British not only proved themselves a strong and vigorous race capable of carving out a world-wide empire, they also brought forth ideas and created institutions which have endured and flourished. British ideas and institutions such as parliaments, courts of law, democratic institutions, scientific advances, literature and a million other things today almost define a more advanced form of human existence. We take it for granted that such institutions and ideas that the British thought as suitable for their civilization will equally hold good for us as well.

For instance, it is not even thinkable in England today, that a politician would use violence or attempt to rig elections by unlawful methods. Obviously in that society a person takes to public life out of different considerations and motives. In Britain rarely do we have life time politicians who aspire for political office in their early twenties and stay in office even when they are in their seventies, as mere vegetables. Although a much richer country, the elected enjoy very few benefits of office; most ministers, judges, public servants take the train to work in the UK even today. They don’t have an army of servants, bodyguards, political staff etc as we do. On most surveys of quality of life, the United Kingdom is among the top ranks. By contrast our show here is a vulgar cavalcade of careerists, showoffs, thugs, comedians and conmen. In Sri Lanka even the spouses of such people enjoy a life style which is scandalous considering the reality of life for the rest of the population.

Coming back to the two gentlemen who, among others, wrote about the Latimer House principles, can it be said that they are truly politicians of the British model? We cannot think of a single party leader in British history who would have continued as leader with the record of electoral and other failures associated with the Ranil Wickramasinghe leadership. But every defeat is explained away, as every defeat could be, with the wish that the next time around would be different. Rohitha Bogollagama was elected to parliament on the basis of UNP votes and thought nothing of crossing over to the government side to enjoy the perks of a ( and as rumour has it very well so) Ministerial office.

Even if the British parliament were to impeach a judge, that process will take place in a different culture, almost another world. Their media would be a fearless and vibrant participant in the whole progression of the impeachment. It is unlikely that the British public would allow the impeachment of a judge purely because it suits the legislature. Their political   parties and the MPs would be responsive to public opinion. Impeachment after all is a “judicial process” resulting in finding fault with and penalizing of a person. Such a process cannot be a situation where MPs vote on party lines. It also is a situation where one arm of the government is intruding into another, directly affecting the division of power. That process cannot be a mock trial where some interested parties achieve their ends by any means. The core values, standards and the sense of fair play that have defined most  English institutions  will be the greatest defense against subverting such a process.

It was once argued by somebody that Hinduism is essentially an Indian religion, meaning that its appeal is overwhelmingly restricted to a certain kind of people. A people who eat, dress, walk, look at things in a certain way,  have certain kinds of tastes and are identifiable in  appearance also find spiritual appeal in that religion. Outside of the Indian Sub-Continent, to other people, races and those of a different up-bringing, Hinduism evidently has no appeal and as a result finds very few converts. Whatever the truth of this argument concerning religious beliefs, we may wonder whether in a similar way, ideas such as constitutional, parliamentary and common law systems which characterize the method of government in the United Kingdom will have the same efficacy in societies such as ours.

On the way to Latimer House we will find a bigger house called the Parliament House. That being the case will we ever find the way to Latimer House?

Read the Sinhala translation here.  Translation by Yahapalanaya Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Politicians are generally looking for a place to roost, enjoy parlimentary privileges and bask in corrupt practices. Eventually they pass away and are accorded a state funeral, with body lying in state by the Diyawanna. They certainly do not care about Latimer House or Independence of the Judiciary.

    The toiling masses too cannot be bothered about these symbols of democracy when they are beaten on their heads by thugs wielding wooden poles. Govt by the rogues supported by the thugs and worshipped by the people.

  • 0

    It is absurd as the writer points out for us as a civilisation after gaining everything foreign, being under the British who are responsible for transforming this society to mingle with the rest of the world today, as a part of civilisation of the world race. At a time the hype and importance is a Global Village, it is nothing but foolishness for us to deviate and revert back to our ways when we can not maintain acceptable civilised standards as the rest. If at all there is only one system accepted as civilised and anything else is not acceptable and is uncivilised. The simple truth is that the scum in governance can never conduct themselves as civilised.

  • 0

    Good to hear someone writing something about our current politics without having a go at us Sinhala Buddhists.

    Thank you Mr Ravi Perera.

    Our youth .even those Rotorians from Cinnamon Gardens wouldn’t know Latimer from a latte.

    Latrine is not so cool. Isn it ?.

    • 0

      currently your side politics and governance with family clan, always find ways to go to KATHARAGAMA VIA HAMBANTHOTA, NALLOOR KANDASAAMY via yaalpaanam, THIRUPATY like kovils before taking decisions on CONDOMS THEORY.

    • 0

      Two lines from the bottom, please note the phrase “… in societies like ours.” That is a brilliant thrashing to all of us, dear Sumanasekera.
      Sinhala Buddhists, who seem to have drifted far away from Buddhism, are entitled to the lion’s share of it!

      A beautiful essay indeed. Many thanks to the author.

    • 0

      You now appear to fancy yourself as some kind of stand-up comedian. Wonders will never cease, but in the meantime could you please enlighten us on who or what are “ROTORIANS?”

  • 0

    A well balanced thought provoking article. As to the question whether we will ever find our way to Latimer House, the answer is an emphatic no. Based on recent developments, we have totally lost our way. We now even hear those who matter shouting hoarse against our continued membership in the Commonwealth itself. Yes, we are well on our way to an utterly autocratic and oligarchic regime. In such a scenario, the blame lies squarely with our voters.

  • 0

    A superb article.It is intellectually so stimulating to read such well written articles.You are absolutely right. Like Hinduism which obviously has a geographic and ethnic appeal to a segment of the world population( as it has historical roots and an evolutionary history with India) , democracy , parliaments and courts that we practice really belong to the Western civilzation. We mock them when we adopt them. What we have is a abused and a corrupted system.Even people like Ranil who likes to show he is a westernized intellectual is really a deeply native guy willing to do anything to come to power.I wish the writer will now give his impressive mind to the solution to this contradiction. Is there a solution ? Or will we just drift, a small , mediocre country which has been declared a bad place to be born in ?

  • 0

    Ravi is asking the way to Latimer House. Please go
    along Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha until you pass
    Vijitha Yapa Bookshop, take the first turn left.
    Just go past (Flower Drum to the right) and your
    will find LATIMER House to the right

    That is where the man who talks about Latimer House,
    shrinking high security zone and bashing media not in
    his favor lives. His name is Ranil Wickremesinghe. If
    you cannot find him there, ring Temple Trees and ask
    Mahinda Rajapaksa. He will tell you.

    The road from Fifth Lane, where the champion promoter
    of Latimer House principle lives,leads to Temple Trees
    in Kollupitiya. Good luck.

  • 0

    Ravi P, is not proud to be a Sri Lankan. He attributes the parlous state of democracy in the country to the inability of Sri Lankans to adapt to the ethics and standards of civilized behavior necessary for a functioning democracy. These, he says, are inherent in the nations of the West, such as Britain, but are alien to us. He suggests that a people with a different culture traditions and outlook, and who also look physically different, cannot mimic the ways of a nation that conquered the world , and and civilized us. We are an inferior breed! Sounds outrageous, but he gives reasons for his

    There is support among nationalists groups for a homegrown version of government, with the eradication of all vestiges of colonial government. They excuse nepotism, bribery corruption, and unprincipled behaviour of the powers that be as inevitable consequences of our culture and traditions. There is even a professor who suggests that we should reject western science and have our own, which is indigenous and superior as it is divinely inspired (Devaviru}. opinion.
    It is inconceivable that such behavior would be tolerated a western democracy but in Sri Lanka there is hardly a whimper of protest from the citizens.
    Of course these simpletons forget that it is the colonial powers , especially the British, that made Ceylon into a politically, socially and economically viable modern nation, so much so that at Independence, we were the envy of SE Asia.
    Also importantly, the British left behind political leaders, bureaucrats, and an elite, chips off the old colonial block, many proudly sporting British titles, who despite their nationalistic pretensions did nothing to change the status quo. This, in fact, was the most peaceful and prosperous time in our torrid post colonial history.
    A decade or so later, after the political revolution of 1956 ,political power passed to the masses who elected politicians who were less affluent, swabasha educated, with narrower perspectives , uninhibited by Western traditions , ethics and codes of conduct. What followed was a steady erosion of the integrity and independence of institutions of government and a progressive increase in corruption. We have now reached the stage when the executive has a stranglehold on the legislature, achieved through incentives and bribes, the latter consisting of self interested miscreants of various kinds. The subjugation of the judiciary by the executive is well underway. We will soon be ruled by a Monarch, and a court of kin and close friends and subject to their will and pleasure. Sri Lankans will have the government they deserve, a feudal monarchy, akin to what was before the colonists.
    Ravi has good reason for his unpatriotic feelings.!

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