2 December, 2023


Moratuwa Mayor; Clowns In Public

By Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

It was in his area all right; but not within his jurisdiction or protocol of responsibility. The inability to spot the distinction is not solely an intelligence issue; it embodies the disastrous political culture of political interference that has gotten normalised over the last two or so decades.”

Stepping Out of Limits

Moratuwa’s Mayor, Samanlal Fernando, is seen in video clowning before a desperate and bewildered public during a vaccination delivery occasion at Moratuwa. Such a low IQ character,  Samanlal would have not have realized that this was not the place and time and the occasion to politicise a health event. I dare say, this guy must be hardpressed to advertise himself as the author of all good things for the people in his area. It was in his area all right; but not within his jurisdiction or protocol of responsibility. The inability to spot the distinction is not only an intelligence issue; it embodies the disastrous political culture of political interference that has gotten normalised over the last two or so decades.

The video goes round the cyber world in order to ensure nobody misses the entertainment. Although we aren’t  short of similar stuff in Sri Lanka in contemporary times this seems the limit at this level of governance.

Token Cards

The doctor had arrived at the vaccination facility to administer Covid-19 vaccine to a people who have been spending sleepless nights dreaming of it, as the undertaker is at the door. The context was pathetic and sombre and not an occasion for dispute. On the other hand, the mayor had been pre-informed of the event  and  he had thought is a prizeless opportunity to issue token cards to his supportersso that the latter get preference over others. Here is Samanlal acting as a kind of God doing favours.

Dressed in white shirt and trouser, the mayor- a rather short guy- flexed his muscles before the doctor and staff and the meek cops, and kept shouting and demanding that the vaccine must be given first to his token card holders and later, if any be left, be given to others. Not knowing of the mayor’s prerequirement innocent people had arrived in hundreds to fall in line in a queue to take their turn for the life-saver. In this way one observes in the video a gathering of  card holders and queue of non-card holders lining up for the dose.

Bullying Mayor VS The Rest

A big crowd had gathered and the mayor tried hard to bully the doctor and medical staff and even the police to take over his card holders first. He went raucous, shouting and screaming. The  doctor stood her guns and said she cannot treat any group with preference and that she would go with the official line. The lady did try with a lot of patience to explain to this dimwit but the latter did not budge. How could he budge? He would lose face instantly. He should have anticiapted such a result before he tried this stunt.

The mayor went on and on. The cops were cops only because of their uniforms. This is what the police force has been reduced to under politicised systems: impotent, supplicant, slavish, bootlickers with poor selfimage.

The mayor acted out of his jurisdiction of authority. The doctor and her staff were acting as an official of the Ministry of Health of the national government. She had a professional duty to perform with no political or other sorts of intent. On the other hand, the mayor was doing cheap politics.One never knows how he selected card holders. It is reasonable to speculate that he relied on his underlings or ‘catchers,’ to inform him about the political reliability of any claimant for a token card. Political reliability is irrelevant criteria here. As a matter of fact such considerations diminish the occasion and undermine the whole process of public management.

What if the doctor succumbed to the mayor? The mayor, of course, would have been delighted. This success would have added to another string of success in political bullying. More successes like this would serve to consolidate a growing and dangerous public norm about the normalness of public officials “acting in cooperation,” with the politician.

Two Factor Clue to Good Governance

This incident gives a clue to one important factor in keeping a good administration namely, by public servants keeping their autonomy in the face of assaults like this. My own days in the Public Service had been different and we were less impregenable than the doctor in this illustration. We were stronger because those before us safeguarded the honour of their office. I remember a day in the dim past when, while conducting a Land Kachcheri I ordered an MP out of my room for attempting to ride roughshod over my performance of duty. The days had been so good those days because that MP had later praised me in parliament! You don’t find that stuff today with the poor quality of members of parliament we have today.

In this sense the doctor must be congratulated for acting right and firmly. Being a woman she was in a realtively vulnerable situation. By her example she also safeguarded the cops and helped the latter to justify their uniforms.  Every Public Servant must protect the dignty of his/her office jealously both for the sake of himself and for others in the service. Unfortunately, in the recent past Sri Lanka  had unbelievably unworthy and ignoble behaviour even among officials as high as the level of judiciary. Consider the behavioural impact and  precedents when when a former Chief Justice tells a new government that he would, like Barkis, be willing for any order that is desired by the new dispensation; when an older Chief Justice openly tells that he could have sent a Prime Minister (later, President) to jail but refrained from doing that. Mercifully, there have been only few such aberrations among our judiciary so far. This is because we have had in the past men and women terribly above board holding such office iin this institution. A tradition once established is hard to deviate from. A deviator is a traitor to a great inheritance in government

On the other hand, every instance of a government that awards such deviators high position subsequently assists in the normalisation of abnormal conduct. I have delineated a two-way process here: both from the officer concerned and from the government above him.

Our doctor acted admirably as far as the first part of the process is concerned.

While I end writing this column, I just get the news that the mayor has been arrested! That’s great! But let’s wait and see if the arrest may be a nominal one. නිදොස් කොට නිදහස් කරනු ලැබේ [Found not guilty and freed] is a well-worne strategy these days

*The writer can be contacted at shyamonjayasinghe@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 4

    From civilised Australia, Shyamon harks back to our more decent past. The nice people of Uva provide the soothing sound of “pirith” outside, designed to drive the COVID away. Superstition, it may be, but touching.
    Detections here are high, but the long-awaited vaccines are given in the Western Province.
    My wife lives next door to an MOH Office. Sensing activity last Wednesday, she went out, but the queue by then was 300 metres. After three hours of jostling arrived at the Office. Another lady-MOH. She apologised. Second doses of Astra-Zeneca over. Relatives of other doctors had pushed their way in.
    I made inquiries. My classmate and his wife had been more fortunate two days previously. A nice young doctor escorted them to the National Hospital. Over three thousand people, but they had got vaccined within minutes. They had become the parents of the doctor. Told to me confidentially, so no more details will I give.
    Still more worrying; a pharmacist told me he had obvious symptoms, but didn’t get tested, didn’t stop working, but always wore a mask, and kept social distance.
    The claim that Moratuwa was an isolated incident is rather inaccurate.

  • 6

    Very amusing when the ordinary tries to wear the clothes of extraordinary writing !

    The mayor committed no crime, only said to interfere with a bureaucracy in order to get the life saving injection for another segment of population. Yes, may be at this time it should be best for the doctors and other medical people to get on with their job without creating chaos. The Mayor is wrong in the circumstances.

    If you look at our society deeply, you will see this is mere hypocrisy. How did the doctors and their friends and family get their injections ? By standing in line ? In most public places, such people like VIPs and doctors hate to stand in line. They think their status and money should allow them free access to any situation.

    Did any parliamentarian follow these public queues to get their injections ? Did your political master Ranil stand in line ?

    We cannot do anything about this social reality but we can now burn the Mayor of Moratuwa who seems another foolish follower of the Rajapakses. .

  • 3

    Aren’t you shy to say …
    “has been reduced to under POLITICAL SYSTEMS: impotent, supplicant, slavish, bootlickers with poor selfimage.”……
    When your great Ranil has the UNP Ex-Co under its totalitarian constitution filled with 60% of his bootlickers, just to stay as “Leader” when 80% of the rank and file has left him. What is that system?
    Ranil alone. betrayed all those who backed him in 2015, leading us to this current abject situation.
    Hope he will be taking a seat with the govt bench after he manoeuvred to get himself nominated as MP.

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