By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
According to Derana (3/3/16), Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella had been nasty and uncouth to a journalist who questioned him with regard to his controversial order to Head of the political science department at the Kelaniya University to appoint a lecturer to the University. The report states that the Minister had claimed he had the authority to direct the VC on a matter like this. He had castigated the journo in “unprintable language” and reminded him that the journo is simply a guy with a pen in his hand.
I am hoping the Derana report isn’t correct because I am one those who wrote relentlessly against the abuses of the Rajapaksa regime. January 8th was a great day of relief to writers like us,too. Everybody who has read the Colombo Telegraph columns knows my stand on this.
There are many things dead wrong about the Minister’s alleged behaviour. Bravo to FUTA for having put its foot forward and cried foul when Kiriella gave the direction. Lakshman Kiriella must know that the kind of order and direction he can give the University Board has necessarily to be restricted to general policy matters touching on government policy. He has no right to give directions relevant to the day-to-day running of Universities. If he doesn’t know this he should resign and hand over his portfolio to someone more intelligent. Kiriella should ask himself a test question: If the Minister can give directions regarding an administrative act then what is the whole purpose of University autonomy? Universities all over the world get this autonomy on a platter. Every University has its own culture. Universities are esteemed and dignified places of learning and research.
Kiriella also states that the person he had recommended was “qualified.” Let us accept that for the moment. But what about other potential candidates for such a position? If they are far more qualified what should a University do? And what is the plight of the more qualified candidate who was rejected? This is far far away from Yahapalanaya. It is very close to the Marapalanaya, which the people rejected at the polls twice in succession.
One of the roots of Marapalanaya was the politician’s feeling of proprietorship of all in his jurisdiction. In that political culture the Minister virtually own the bodies and souls of employees under his Ministry. The expression “my car; my petrol”! explains that terribly false and ruinous belief. It is hoped that the President and Prime Minister will instill right political values among their Ministers and it seems Kiriella needs a big dose of that lesson.
The massive scale of abuse and corruption of the former regime partly stemmed from such an ingrained value among uneducated and ignorant Ministers. These politicos have travelled so many times to Western modern countries and they should have observed the superior political culture in such countries. In Australia, a Minister will be hooted out by students and berated by staff if he were to give directions like what Kiriella did. Universities and other autonomous bodies take pride in their independence. This helps them to run the institutions without the dysfunctional distortions that result from politicisation. Quality staff is produced and quality students are the general outcome in Universities in this part of the world.
This episode is a great demonstration of how staff and trade unions can stand up to protect their responsibilities. Trade unions can play a constructive role in preserving their institutions. Civil society in general must play a big role in preventing abuse of those in power who think that they are powerful mandarins because they have received one of 110 portfolios.
I refrain from elaborating on the filth allegedly used by the Minister because I like to see no evil. I only fear for Yahapalanaya if there are more episodes like this. The new order will strangely resemble the old.