By Austin Fernando –
A friend drew my attention having seen a response by Dr. Sudath Gunasekara to an article I wrote in Divaina (a response to a Twitter interview by President’s Secretary Mr. Lalith Weeratunga), of which an English translation was published later in Colombo Telegraph (CT). Had Sudath posted his commentary in CT, sometimes I would have responded earlier. In fact, I did so for a response by my friend Mr. Ariyaratna Hewage (Chairman of the Finance Commission), written with his valuable professional finesse.
Summarily, what I wrote was my convictions on how the PCs became to be called ‘white elephants’ and why I tag such consequence to the ‘central saddantha white elephants,’ and a plea to the latter to pull the PC white elephants off the muddy groove, for which I invited Lalith to contribute, as a capable person.
Therefore, I was surprised to see Sudath giving a “political battle twist”, with the header ‘Lalith Vs, Austin’, as if my writing was like the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. Knowing Lalith as a gentleman, I do not think he would have considered my writing in that manner, which was nothing personal. I was entitled to express my convictions like any other. Same entitlement stands in good for Lalith and Sudath too. The culprit for weakening of PCs was not Lalith, but many politicians of all governments, administrators at all levels, media and PC politicians themselves.
I totally agree with Sudath that as Secretary to the President Lalith is experienced and knowledgeable. But Sudath’s argument that Lalith’s “comment had not been rejected or refuted by the President or any other person who matter” does not make what Lalith says the Gospel truth, and what any other’s expressed disagreement is Satanic, as that of the deceiver that leads humanity astray.
Of course, I agree that Lalith’s comments under reference are very important from a national point of view and this is what I guessed also in my article. Therefore, had Sudath read my article leisurely before commenting he would not have attempted to create a fissure between me and Lalith in this manner. Sudath should understand that Lalith and I as professionals disagree on certain things, but both of us agree to disagree too. That is the finesse of professionalism.
Sudath fully agrees with me on what I have written on certain weaknesses observed in the centralized structures, but he considered them irrelevant. I disagree. For instance, Sudath says that PCs have only proliferated political institutions and parasitic politicians and benefitted political parties and politicians. Who created these institutions? It was the central authorities, who were responsible for national policy on devolution (List II-13th Amendment), financing (Article 154R-13th Amendment), creation of systems (e.g. Salgadoe Report), overlooking PCs through constitutionally established Committee of the Parliament (Committee on Public Accounts) etc. Sudath provides ammunition to me to tag another sin to the centre for which I am thankful, but regret his being concurrently supportive of a differing opinion. Anyway it is his right.
Sudath says that he agreed with Lalith’s judgment that “PCs have not served the purpose.” I also believe PCs could have done better. I refer to Ariyaratna Hewage who as Chairman of the Finance Commission, on constitutional and managerial dictations decides on principles on what funding by the Government for the use of PCs should be apportioned, recommend PC budgets (Article 154R of the 13th Amendment), oversees, guides, supervises PCs. Therefore, he is practically informed better on PCs.
In his article responding to me Ari wrote in Divaina (July 13 2013) about the performance of PCs. He wrote that PCs managed about 3.1 million children’s education, in 2012 had 50% passing at the GCE O level examination, in 2011 PCs served 41 million patients (repeats inclusive), and 32 million through OPDs. This is a part of their service narrated by the government, not by me. Having seen media reports on Lalith’s Twitter before this appeared, I was totally baffled, and in my response to Ari wrote that I wondered who is right in evaluating the PC performance- Lalith or Hewage! This is the total picture on wide canvass.
May I for posterity look at the small picture to prove a point?
Sudath hails from Meemure (I think in Udadumbara). He took pride of it, and was even confirmed by jeep driver Banda (Was it Tikiri or Dingiri Banda? I forget.) in Matale Kachcheri, who was gleefully proud of a village lad from Meemure becoming a SLAS officer, entering the portals of power— the entry point to gentry. That was Sudath. I appreciate and honor his climb, having similar roots from the lower middle class.
Meemure was a village full of scenic beauty –peaceful and tranquil. The path he, driver Banda and I trudged to Meemure was across Heen Ganga (as I remember), which I have crossed when I was working in Kandy in 1968, learning work from Chandrananda de Silva in the Elections Department.
The centre as I knew did not develop Meemure then. That I had seen. Thinking that the Central PC would have done same by Meemure, which I superficially considered was the reason for Sudath to be so rash and cursed on PCs in general, I inquired whether Meemure has seen development during the last 45 years. I was told that a small bridge across Heen Ganga has been constructed and two schools in Meemure and Kaikawela were provided with school buildings, along with teacher’s quarters and teachers to serve. .A health unit had been provided and the road leading to Meemure from Loolwatte had been rehabilitated.
I thought Sudath as DRO / Udadumbara had provided these. What else can one expect from a grateful person who as a child of 11 years aspired to be a DRO or from the person who was felicitated by the small school where he learnt his ‘Ayanna’ (A,B,C) when appointed as a DRO? Was it ‘Hadabima’ Organization headed by Sudath that developed Meemure or the Kandyan Peasantry Commission?
But to my surprise, it was the Central PC that had financed all these, I was told. If my information is true I do not expect intelligent Sudath, to look towards Meemure and declare that nothing has happened due to a PC other than waste and political power building for some, irrespective of what Ari Hewage had to say of PCs performance in general.
I am sure Sudath is still proud of his roots. Therefore, I think as a birthright he should have been proud of devolved powers developing the village that gave him the first breath of life. If Meemure environment failed to mix that breath with his lungs he would not have been alive! Alas, I found the reverse.
When Sudath writes on the history of the 13th Amendment, criminality of Indians, what I would have done if I were Secretary Defense during 2009 war, or on Sinhala Buddhist sentiments etc. I see Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s face superimposed over the face of the innocent lad from Meemure! I may refrain from commenting on these due to irrelevancy to my article and want of space. Only passing remark I may make is that I had been a good public servant and I would have done what the government I served expected from me (like Lalith over here), whether in war or peace or calamity. If he wants any details on my position he condescendingly quotes, I request him to read my book “My Belly is White.”
But, I have a query from the former distinguished administrator adorning a doctorate (unlike like me with comparatively ‘wee bit of brains’, as he insinuates!). I wonder whether Sudath ever thought that the 18th Amendment has made the whole Constitution and governance systems in Sri Lanka toothless (including the Judiciary and processes in the country) and made his Augean stables quote more appropriate to present day governance.
It appears that he believes that the Augean mess created by devolution through PCs could be cleared by his eulogies and rhetoric. Probably, he projects that he is Hercules and all of us riff raffs who speak for devolution should be washed off in clearing the PC Augean Mess! If it was so easy I am certain that Herculean President Mahinda Rajapaksa would have done it already, without waiting for Sudath to take kudos. Simultaneously, I do not know whether the reluctance and delay of the President to do so exhibit respect for some concerns of the pro-devolutionary Dick, Tom and Harry.
Finally, I wish to say that I am a great respecter of our Constitution. Hence as long as devolution is in the Constitution I honor it. Therefore, I respect the devolution process, constitutional guarantees given to devolution, institutions established for devolution, whether Sudath or any other Great denounces it. What I say is he should be faithful to the Constitution though he hates the 13th Amendment. I hate the 18th Amendment but I respect the existing Constitution that contains it!
This may be one reason why even the President, albeit Sudath’s and Minister Weerawansa’s and others’ far cries of “far-reaching disastrous dimensions and the serious and long term political and other implications of the PCs” has decided to soon hold PC elections in three provinces – Central, Wayamba and Northern. Nevertheless, everyone knows that the present hard headed dialogue on devolution by many politicians is because of the Northern PC elections, which I have not hidden in my article. I regret to note that the thinking of an enlightened administrator like Sudath with a doctorate has been ‘doctored’ to the extent of vituperation by ill logic and illogic.
I have known of a quote from Voltaire — “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I do. However, if your honor precedes vituperation you will definitely retort now — “Austin, Voltaire has said “It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong”; Man, I did only that!” If you say so, my respect to you will enhance in leaps and bounds, because it eases understanding you. Flip a coin and decide to retort or not to!