By Malinda Seneviratne –
First of all, please understand that I have a tough job. On the one hand I am a conveyor of Cabinet decisions. When I do this I am the first ‘point man’ for tough queries on these same decisions, even though I am not necessarily an expert on each and every subject. I also have to play a damage control role because the media is notorious for taking the slightest error or slip on the part of the Government and inflating it for their own purposes, not all of which is about informing and educating the public. There are times when the slip-ups are real and embarrassing. At such times I have a tough brief to defend. I do my best to keep things sane and in context.
It would be better, infinitely, if those who err were to come clean, admit fault, ask for forgiveness and try to do things differently the next time. That doesn’t happen often. I am torn. On the one hand there is party loyalty and a need to defend friend and colleague. Then there is the public demand for the truth, however unpalatable it may be.
I’ve defended the incorrigible sons of my colleagues. I said ‘boys will be boys’. That’s easy to say. Boys can’t be camels or rhinos, after all. I should have added, ‘be that as it may, it is no excuse to break the law and if caught to invoke daddy’s or mummy’s name to escape the law. It is my son Ramith who I have to talk about today. I didn’t say ‘boys will be boys’ when my son stepped out of line as a schoolboy, but my position clearly helped him. Any other child would have been sacked immediately. In hindsight, I should have insisted that the school do whatever was necessary in the name of discipline to protect the dignity of the institution.
The incident itself is hardly a crime. It made headline news because he happens to be a minister’s son. I know that a breathalyzer test was not done by the flight crew and so it is easy for me to say ‘prove he was drunk and I will resign’. I know that no one is buying that story. I know also that no one is purchasing the sleep-walking explanation. He was returning from a tour where he represented the country. When you represent the country, you have an added responsibility to ensure that nothing is done to tarnish the name of the country, on the field and outside it. It is not illegal to take a drink, but one expects, given the situation, that limits are understood and kept to. My son did not. That is where the transgression took place.
I strongly urge Sri Lanka Cricket to mete out the maximum punishment to my son for whatever infringement he is guilty of, in the name of the sport, in the name of discipline and in the larger interest of the country. Anything less gives a wrong message and only proves the general perception that politicos and their near and dear are above the law or at least are treated with soft hands whereas others get their knuckles rapped or worse.
At this point I remember how as a schoolboy I was caught doing the naughty-naughty during a period when I was representing the country. I remember that I was not admonished. I remember that I was not caned or put on detention. I was not suspended or sacked. I believe now that the leniency shown to me emboldened me to disregard discipline and responsibility.
On that occasion my father’s name and position clearly worked in my favor. It embarrassed him. I was a schoolboy then and all that mattered was that my rear end was saved. My appachchi should have known better, I now think.
Anyway, I am no longer a schoolboy. ‘Boys will be boys’ cannot be explanation enough, I understand this. I was desperate, though. I didn’t want my appachchi to be embarrassed. I ought to have known that cover-up makes things worse, especially given my history. The ‘somnambulism excuse’, moreover, made me look an even bigger idiot than I am.
The thing is, whether I sleep-walk or not, I should have shown more discretion in my conduct. Drinking is not illegal, but I was part of a team that represented the country. Coming off with egg in the face, especially in a British Airways flight, put egg on my appachchi’s face and on the nation’s collective face as well.
There is a time and a place. There is a thing called ‘a sense of proportion’. If I haven’t understood these things, I cannot expect the general public to show sympathy.
I am sorry. Truly. I will accept whatever punishment that Sri Lanka Cricket metes out to me. I will do my best to be a better citizen. I think this will help my appachchi in the long run too and compensate him for all the embarrassment I’ve caused for he won’t have to ‘cover up’ for the errant sons of his colleagues hereafter.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com