By Latheef Farook –
During the second half of 1960s when I started my journalistic career with the now defunct Independent Newspapers, I was sent to cover parliamentary proceedings. Within weeks I realized that here was a place where one could learn a lot. Those were the days when parliamentarians in general were educated, cultured and well-mannered .They respected religious, cultural and social values.
They came well prepared for discussions. In this regard parliamentarians from left parties contributed a great deal. To name a few Dr N.M. Perera, Colvin R De Silva, Bernard Zoysa, Peter Keuneman, Dudley Senanayake, J .R. Jayewardene, Ronnie De Mel, Felix R Dias Bandaranaike, George Rajapaksa, M Sivasithamparam, A Amirthalingam and several others.
They were a respected lot for their intellectual caliber and integrity. Many used to buy Hansard comprising their speeches at 30 cents and preserve for future reference.
They were not only familiar with domestic issues but also well versed on international developments. For example in August 1968 Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and installed its stooge in power. This was discussed in the parliament.
Then Minister of Industries and the leader of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, MEP, and Philip Gunawardena explained the reason behind Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. He gave a clear picture of the political scene in countries under Soviet control. It was intellectual tonic for those who wanted to know about socialist world.
However unfortunately half a century later today one could say that most parliamentarians know nothing about some of the burning international issues including the Israeli Palestinians problem or the United States led UK,France, Israeli and Russian wars destroying Muslim countries in the Middle East under the guise of fighting a deceptive war on terrorism.
Commenting on the high standard of discussions then former Arab League Ambassador in New Delhi, also accredited to Sri Lanka, Abdullah Murad who watched a session told me that “these discussions are free, enlightening and are of high standard. You don’t see this anywhere in the Middle East as most countries there are dictatorships.
Listening to late Finance Minister Dr N.M. Perera, the commercial attaché of the Iraqi Embassy in Colombo Jawdat Al Khidairy said “Dr Perera should be the finance minister for the whole third world.
They were also known for their simplicity, honesty, integrity and respect for talent without any racial prejudice. For example I remember when the then Finance Minister U.B. Wanninayaka was approached to help a person who had applied for a job in one of the government departments, his response was; I can speak, but the problem is we will deprive if a more qualified person has applied of his job.
Once I went to the vegetarian restaurant Indo Ceylon Café at Colpetty for breakfast. I was shocked to see late Prime Minister W Dahanayake having his breakfast in the traditional banana leaf which he later threw in the garbage bin and washed his and mouth in the common pipe.
Thus the parliamentarian of yester years had shown us the path which the politicians in the subsequent years discarded.
The standard of discussions began to decline under late President J.R. Jayewardene whose 1978 constitution made him a democratically elected dictator. This made free expression impossible aggravated further by possession of undated resignation letters of government parliamentary members.
This gradual decline continued under successive governments.
With the end of the 30 year ethnic war most people expected former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to learn from the racist politics which brought death and destruction and use the golden historic opportunity to put the sinking country in order.
Therefore everyone thought Mahinda Rajapaksa will remove bitterness and bring divided and devastated communities together, restore democratic values, pave the for political stability ,economic development and move the country ahead for a better future for all and earn a name in history.
However he miserably failed and ended up as godfather of crime, corruption and brought about a dark era. Racism flourished. Government institutions including judiciary became corrupt. Tamil grievances ignored and violence unleashed against Muslim community. They drove terror into the minds of Muslim community which culminated in the burning and looting of Muslim owned houses. Provincial council members were accused of gang raping a tourist who later died. In short there was mayhem everywhere.
It was in such an atmosphere that parliament was dissolved and new elections were called.
SLFP Minister Maithripala Sirisena left Rajapaksa government and led the opposition in the election campaign together with Ranil Wickremesinghe and his United National Party. Stage after stage in all political meetings both Maithri and Ranil promised the country to bring all corrupt, criminals and those looted the country’s wealth to bring to book.
People trusted and voted them to power with great hope of a country free of crime, corruption and peace. However Maithri formed a government with former ministers accused of very crime and corruption.
Three years later today Maithri-Ranil failed to fulfil their pledges to the nation. Instead there were allegations of corruption against them now.
Those accused of corruption, crime, plundering the country and other allegations remain free and enjoying same positions and perks. People are disillusioned and fear that the government’s failure may bring back the dark era.
It was under this political environment that government and opposition members accused each other in the parliament on 6 January 2018 of corruption. The overall conduct of the parliamentarians was of absolute disgrace and shameful.
The country is facing acute political and economic crisis.
During the time of independence in 1948 the country had all the required fundamentals to turn into one of the most progressive and prosperous as then Singapore Prime Minister had reported to have told that “he would make Singapore a Sri Lanka”.
Sri Lanka today is one of the most mismanaged countries in the world. Both United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party, ruled the island alternatively, are responsible. It looks like endless Greek tragedy for the island where people continue suffer and politicians flourish.
All because the majority Sinhalese community failed to produce a visionary leader who could think for the whole country instead of indulging in racist politics to remain in or capture power.