26 May, 2022


Suck-Up Society: Where Collective Decisions Are Worse Than One-Man Shows

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

When an Executive takes decisions (on hiring, tenders etc.) he can abuse his powers. A Committee therefore decides collectively. All are responsible. It works well in western society (in general) because the boss “guiding” his committee towards a particular decision will be resisted by persons of integrity.

In our suck-up society where we do not contradict the boss, however, the very collective mechanism to make a strong, collective decision strengthens the hand of the Executive to make his own decisions and justify them as collective decisions. The situation is worse because in a one-man show, he needs to justify his decisions.

Enjoying Powers We Do Not Have

At board meetings, we routinely get letters from employees turning 60 asking for permission to retire. We give that permission feeling good about ourselves. However, if we pause and ask, “What if we said no?” the vanity of that exercise of our power will be apparent. Most employees want to work beyond age 60. Even if we said no, that employee would still have to retire. So what is going on? It is the establishment forcing employees to suck up to their bosses in one last goodbye, as they had been doing since they joined.

Welcome to Sri Lanka where we survive by being obsequious. I have seen a boss coming by car and riding the elevator to his office and then his peon running down to the car (still waiting with the driver in the portico) to fetch his brief case. Where I work, peons take my bag and will not have me carrying it. Along the way other peons will open the door for me, even as policemen stand up. Worse, as I enter my foyer where several staff members are busy working, they stop, stand up, greet me, and sit down only after I have entered my office. I have told them so many times not to do it, but to no avail. Bosses are so spoilt that the value of rapid reply inherent to email is lost when email is printed by a secretary (just once a day), put in a new file with a name for the file, and given to the boss to draft a reply by hand, which then is typed by the secretary and sent. It is all about spoilt bosses.

Suck-ups at the Supreme Court

Even Supreme Court justices are known to be sycophantic before the Chief Justice, being merely an appendage endorsing horrible one-man decisions to make them sound like decisions by a bench.

Consider CJ Sarath Silva and the Helping Hambantota case. “Mr. Silva confessed to BBC Sinhala Service that he had delivered a judgment favorable to then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa” (ColomboPage, 18.10.2014), who was accused of misappropriating tsunami funds. What were Justices Shirani Tilakawardena and N.E. Dissanayake doing in signing “I agree” at the end of the judgment? Did they also help Rajapakse? Were they stooging or too scared to cross their Chief Justice? In essence, they gave respectability to a decision by one man to favor a politician who went on to become president.

In that case, Kabir Hashim filed a complaint that Rajapakse had siphoned off Rs. 83 million from the Tsunami fund into a private account. DIG Goonatillake after approval by the Attorney General Kamalasabesan issued a B-Report. Rajapakse immediately transferred the money back, indicating that the complaint probably had merit. Yet, in his judgment quashing the police investigation, Silva imposed huge fines on Hashim, the state, the IGP, and the DIG – as if to say “Don’t you dare look into corruption again!” Welcome to Sri Lanka.

Meeting Minutes

At a simple level, meeting minutes are taken by the Scribe, a Registrar/Secretary to the Board, who records proceedings while the Executive conducts the meeting. In theory the record is by an independent person giving a truthful record, read over by the Board and approved. In Sri Lankan reality, the Scribe gives the record to the Executive who edits it to give his own slant, which then goes in the name of the suck-up Scribe who will not question the Executive. The Board usually does not even read the minutes before approval. Their role gives respectability to the Executive’s version of decisions, including those never taken.

University Level

Recently the University of Jaffna Council minutes, officially by the Registrar, stated that the Council decided to exclude from the ballot an applicant for the post of VC, Sam Thiagalingam, because his application posted early in the US, was allegedly late. It was something the VC wanted but no such decision had been taken.

Being such an important matter, however, the fraud was caught and a debate ensued but the decision to exclude was taken, this time in reality. There is a 5-judge decision from our Supreme Court that the date of dispatch is effectively the date of receipt (Adams V Lindsell from 1818, and University of Ceylon v Fernando [1957] 59 NLR 8). However, because the VC feared that an outsider might look into all the corruption at the university, she wanted Thiagalingam excluded. The UGC, always ready to support corrupt VCs, did. Council members said, “The UGC appointed us. If we go against the UGC we will be removed.” Such is the integrity of those appointed to our university councils.

While our UGC is meant to regulate the administration and standards of our universities, it has on board a person who ordered Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, then a tender board chairman under him, to give him a signed but otherwise blank recommendation to enable buying typewriters from his family business; besides a person who uses a UGC letter asking him to cover duties in the VC’s absence at Jaffna, to list himself on the UGC and Jaffna Websites as Acting VC for that period. Naturally this corrupt UGC abdicates its responsibility to regulate. When corrupt VCs are challenged in court, instead of advising court on whether rules were violated or not, the Chairman files affidavits claiming, despite the universities Act, that the UGC has no power to force universities to abide by the law. Why even have a UGC then?

At each level there is mutual sucking up. Only the country suffers. The only rule among high administrators? You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

Cabinet Level

Cabinet Collective responsibility is the highest form of collective decision-making. Each minister, in theory, accepts a fellow minister’s recommendations after debate, as his own. Once decided, every minister takes ownership.

However, according to Darisha Bastians, our political system is “riddled with corruption, nepotism and shadowy wheeler-dealing.” Even the PM endorsed this when he said the country had no use for a Parliament that only sought to protect thieves and crooks and that “[t]he people did not vote for a Parliament that protects the corrupt.”

Yet, there are credible allegations against many if not most of our ministers. In reality, with many ministers, the cabinet rule is “You do your stealing. I will do mine. And we will all back each other.” That is their take on collective responsibility. Many members of the former government with serious charges of corruption have now been elevated to cabinet office by the PM and President, eroding any credibility they have over their pledges of good governance. What remained went out of the window when President Sirisena forced the head of the bribery commission to resign, saying he publicly condemned her for prosecuting three retired admirals and the former defence secretary with “disgust,” and that “military commanders who led the successful campaign to crush separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 should not be humiliated by bringing them to court” (EconomyNext, 17.10.2016). If you killed Tamils, even the President will suck up to you to get votes. Welcome to Sri Lanka.

Need to Stop Sucking Up

If we are to ever recover, we need to stop sucking up as expected and rebel against bosses who demand our ingratiating, sycophantic unctuousness. We need to appoint people with integrity to our Boards; not those who seek appointments because they are the very people who will suck up and fail the institutions they serve.

As I told the new SLAS Cadets in their induction lecture I gave, they need to follow Murugeysan Rajendra (who retired as Treasury Secretary and Head of Service). The daughter-in-law of the Minister who first advocated Sinhalese-only in the State Council, had imported a sports car duty-free claiming it was temporary, using a special exemption for tourists. At six months’ end, Rajendra impounded the car. The furious minister asked him “What do you think you are doing?” Rajendra answered, “Upholding the law.” We must emulate Rajendra and of Nesiah who refused to sign the blank tender recommendation demanded by his Secretary. Until we do that, we too contribute to corruption.

Can we uphold the law and take our country back? Re-establish collective integrity and rescue our future from our corrupt leaders?


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Latest comments

  • 1

    Dear Dr Hoole. Now Right to Information Act in place. Why do not you request all the Sri Lankn Public sector University professors qualifications, Google citations report and ISI and SCOPUS article list and international positions they held to publish for citizens? Do not ask conference papers and abstracts because now it is heavily commercialized and badly manipulated. Do this then your name go to history and all fake professors will be exposed. At least University professor salary should be linked to performance not for just transferring old text book notes to students.

  • 1

    There are principled men and women in our midst, no denying. We never get to know them. REASON: Once a person is principled he is not any more good company.

    The writer sings the story of praise of two he ‘knew’. He knows that they were both men already recognised. How about a few (hundreds) who resisted the temptation of glory and were thrown into the dustbin even before they could reach that pedestal.

    I am not saying that Ratnajeevan Hoole should stop writing such articles, but only asking what he is expecting to reap out of an information that is public knowledge. He knows too well that our blessed country is eons remote from any such revolution!

  • 1

    It’s all politics old boy and that why you choose not to utter a word about the bandits of the bond scam.

  • 0

    Well said Prof Hoole

  • 2

    Yes what you highlighted was correct. An excellent piece of argument
    I appreciate your brevity. You contribution will pay dividend. There are many good people in Sri Lanka. They will endorse it definitely

  • 6

    when the Tamils were fighting for their freedom you were sucking up to all sides but the Tamil side. Now you have audacity to talk about the suck-up? You weakened the Tamils and contributed to their destruction.

    • 0

      The Tamils have not been destroyed, despite facing huge losses. Through many years Tamils talked about their strength, their scientists, engineers, warriors, money spinners, their air power , their sea power and their great intellectuals who backed the LTTE from around the world. Was all this in fact so weak as tattered cardboard that one Hoole could wreck it all?

      Was it Hoole who held 300,000 civilians captive in Mullivaykkal amidst raining destruction? Be a little more honest and help the community to think.

  • 1

    Lankawe democratically builds up dictatorship and vote for it. Main reason is racism. The author has mentioned about State Council, where racism legally imposed first time. The racism has paved it way to nepotism and then to corruption and to hide which, violent murders of politicians from SWRD, that led to illegally capturing and sharing women to rape for enjoyment where the Hindu and Buddhist culture have not made available free women. When one want to appoint only Sinhala Labels that will be the result. Every Sinhalese knows it but earnestly wants it.

    95 of the idiots in parliaments have not completed O/L. There is no other expiation where in a country claims 99% have educated, this has happened. 25 only have gone through a formal university system. Many of these 25 donkeys are from Lankawe Universities, which existence is only to offer PhDs to war criminal and being the practical training schools and labs for graduation in corruption and nepotism. Even Ranil like is not sure if he would have reached that education if he have had not from that family wealth and was born in average family. So, even the remaining educated ones are only from Old Royalties. This is the story of Pancha Pandavar four like the bed’s leg…..

    Lankawe cannot rebel this, but can only cave into it more. The Ehelepolas will not allow rebelling. Only way to Lankawe survive is to be ruled by Britain. Britain is unlikely to come back. But now China is willing. It started by hacking the computers in the last regime. Now, buying little by little the lands. In 10 years it may own Lankawe and start to rule it legally. Let see in that time if Lankawe can settle to one form of government; at least to China communism.

  • 1


    …..You weakened the Tamils and contributed to their destruction……

    In that case Prof: Hoole would be a War Hero and would have been rewarded accordingly;But that was not the case no?

  • 2


    Sucking up: Is it inherent or part of colonialism.
    a) Leonard Woolf describes the villagers (in Baddegama) each saying he is the most honest and to be trusted.

    on the other hand

    b) The Kings of SL had to import mercenaries to fight their wars (Vellakaras).
    c) The English had to import Indians to work the plantations

    My opinion is we are typical tropical Island lotus eaters (including me).
    Regardless of their origin, Europe or Asia.

    Put them in another country they will probably perform better than the natives.
    Thats just the first generation.

    Why would one work so hard. 1-2 acres gives a comfortable income.
    Minimal work, and as the population ages there will be more land per child.
    Will we have to import labor to work the land and service industry.

    SL had 2 million people in 1900’s and went to 16 million in 1970’s

    Ireland (same size as SL) has 5 million now, but there are 40 million of Irish descent all over the world.

    One forgets that Europe (including Sweden (1.3 million to the uS ), the model welfare state ) exported its poor to the rest of the world.

    Back to Suck up society.

    Jeevan, the uS in its hey day, the 60’s and late 80’s was a very equal society, specially in the Science and Technology, university area. Its easy with the huge resource influx from the rest of the world.

    The whole uS university system specially in higher academia is a suck up system. Rewriting (regurgitating) the same findings with some minute changes co authored with some well known names.

    So who cares if the peon in SL carries your bag.
    If you dont give a him/her a break he/she might spit in the tea,

    Yes, those peons may seem suck up. When they realize no benefit, your bag will get lost, handle broken.
    Passive Aggregative.

    Try running a paddy field or coconut estate.
    No wonder the Chinese brought their own labor.

    I am happy for my people (Sinhalese/Tamil/Muslim) that they can be independent, and show the finger to “the man”. That said can be frustrating at times.


    Jeevan, You and I are descendants of those who sucked up to the European invaders. Our ancestors changed names and religion to get ahead. In my case case they change multiple times.

    So, standing up, carrying your bag are ways of sucking up.
    I dont like it either.
    Even if that, they will find other ways of sucking up.
    Thats the way of the world.

  • 3

    I would say the same of Sri Lankans as immigrants. They integrate well and happily (or unhappily) ditch their old country ways.


    More characteristic among the newer arrivals, however, was the young, unmarried woman … As domestic servants in America, they … were treated as members of the families they worked for and like ‘ladies’ by American men, who showed them a courtesy and consideration to which they were quite unaccustomed at home.”[32]

    They found employment easily, as Scandinavian maids were in high demand, and learned the language and customs quickly. Working conditions were far better than in Sweden, in terms of wages, hours of work, benefits, and ability to change positions. [33][34]

    In contrast, newly arrived Swedish men were often employed in all-Swedish work gangs. The young women usually married Swedish men, and brought with them in marriage an enthusiasm for ladylike, American manners and middle-class refinements. Many admiring remarks are recorded from the late 19th century about the sophistication and elegance that simple Swedish farm girls would gain in a few years, and about their unmistakably American demeanor.

    As ready workers, the Swedes were generally welcomed by the Americans, who often singled them out as the “best” immigrants. There was no significant anti-Swedish nativism of the sort that attacked Irish, German and, especially, Chinese newcomers. The Swedish style was more familiar: “They are not peddlers, nor organ grinders, nor beggars; they do not sell ready-made clothing nor keep pawn shops”, wrote the Congregational missionary M. W. Montgomery in 1885; “they do not seek the shelter of the American flag merely to introduce and foster among us … socialism, nihilism, communism … they are more like Americans than are any other foreign peoples.”

    • 0

      Barr Cum
      You provide good reading.
      But how did you smuggle 423 words past the gate keeper (plus another 285 word bag). No objections, but curious.

      The class of the immigrant was always a factor besides colour and cultural identity.
      What happened to the people of colour in the UK had also to do with the fact that they were from ‘slave nations’ although some had it good despite colour.
      A young person from Ceylon (as it was known then) who stayed on in the UK for a while in the 1930’s after qualifying as engineer was seated in a rail carriage opposite a female, seemingly upper middle class. She spoke to him with respect for some time and then casually asked him about his occupation.
      He proudly declared “I am an Engineer”.
      “I thought that you were a Gentleman” she responded.
      Not a word passed from then on. (She may have expected him to have been a prince of sorts— including frog princes).
      Surgeons too were looked down upon by the upper classes of Britain— that seems the reason why surgeons there still insist that they be called Mr and not Dr.

      Attitude towards the professions are different across the waters both east and west.

      True, we are lotus eaters– but only at home.
      Elsewhere, we toil hard as well as have produced outstanding con artists, like Emil S to name one.

      • 2

        Barr Cum
        Nice, should have spelled my name as Cumara…
        Better still a name like Mahalingam.
        Probably disappointment in expectations.

        But how did you smuggle 423 words past the gate keeper
        No idea. Maybe like an inverse relation to length of name to other things; height?.

        I thought that you were a Gentleman” she responded.
        In order to live like a gentleman you (or your ancestors) have to be thieves.
        e.g. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Tata’s and Sassoons

        All descendants of opium sellers (drug dealers) to China.

        Another descendant of Sassoon David Sassoon is the British banker and government minister James, Lord Sassoon. In the 19th century, one daughter of the family, Rachel Sassoon Beer bought a number of newspapers in England, including The Sunday Times (1893–1904) and The Observer, which she also edited.

        Good. Emil Soundranayagam bested the west in their own game.

        I have no illusion of my ancestors. For sure they carried bags and kow-towed to the colonial administrators; and then got ahead. I am where I am because of them.

        Everyone needs to suck up, to get ahead.
        A Presidential candidate has to suck up to the voters (most likely false).
        One has to suck up to wife and children (unless you are a wife/child beating moron).

        Its a suck up world all over.

        • 0

          Sorry about the misspelling of name.

          Tempting, as there are several famous Mahalingams.

          As for sucking up, much depends on what one means by getting ahead.

          I am sure that some tire of ‘getting ahead’ at some stage of life and want to turn things round.
          Somehow I suspect that you are somewhere there.


  • 0

    Prof. Hoole has touched an excellent area of public morality. That is the very reason why he was not allowed to function as VC of Jaffna even after appointment. Who denied him?

    There were others who were GA’s in the Northern Province districts in those days of war. “The Boys” wanted bags of rice, free of charge, not only for their consumption but later it transpired that it was used instead of sand bags. The Good old GA tells them in the typical bureaucratic fashion. I can’t issue it you all but I would be issuing it to the co-operatives. In other words don’t ask from me, get it from the co-operative after I issue to them. Oh! what a good GA! In fact in those days of “peace”, “the boys” wanted him back as GA and the Government of the day granted the wish, in the name of peace.

    If Prof.Hoole then obstinately tried to function as 1 day in office as VC of Jaffna then we would sadly miss him and his well informed, well thought of writings.

    Remember! sycophancy exists because of implied threats even amounting to terrorism is carried out for “dis-obedience”, the penalties payable can be very high.

  • 0

    Thank you for writing this.

    Please kee writing more.

    That may bring about some change.in our society.

  • 0

    In our suck-up society where we do not contradict the boss,”

    Prof. Hoole,


    At the end of it, my mother had this haunting observation to make:
    You went with your your head held high now you come back with your head down.

    I remember my first lecture. IT WAS A SAGE ON THE STAGE EXPERIENCE.

    I was already adviced on my way there. “You can’t walk up the same steps as the Professor is coming down.” So I went down quicly and took the winding iron stairs in my skirt.

    I could not read the reference given and the name was in Latin. I stood up and asked what it was, in English. The story quickly spread around. I was called by my honorable seniors on my way to my hostel “If you want a class, don’t open your mouth in class”. In fact no one did. Not even at office hours unless you were hallmates. Tamil students were taught practicals in Sinhala by the TAs . Given the mood there we just nodded our heads smiled more than others as if it was all so illuminating and marvelous.

    We were bullied as we entered, some even sexually badly. We could not try to speak in Engnlish without being taunted “kaduwa”, we could not wear pants even for practicals we would be called “attaless” Mahatmaya all the way down to Sanghamitta. We could not talk to boys “sal queen” or your names on the,
    notice board encircled. Vegetarians had nutritionally condemnable food for 4 years.

    At the end I was struggling to speak English because I was talking at beginner level in English so as to survive.

    We would not go to the Clinical centre for the first question asked of me because of a stomach ache eating Akbar grass cum greens was “Are you pregnant?”.

    Now you dons complain we are a suck up society.

    Most MPs don’t go to Universities. They don’t suck up. -THAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE SRI LANKAN character in the Public Service.

    I remember the Ragama guys, they were the ‘product’ properly made. But they were not allowed to survive.

    2. Here you suck up or get fired, shot, exiiled or disappeared with no justice at the courts.

  • 2

    Prof. Jeevan Hoole,

    Jeevan, You and I are descendants of those who sucked up to the European invaders. Our ancestors changed names and religion to get ahead. In my case case they change multiple times.

    I think the above comment should have an answer. Thats given the context of your article “Suck up Society”.

    Agree or Disagree: Rationalize based on historical context of our families.

    If you make case that I am anonymous, a click on my handle for blog.
    Why go thru all that, I am Sereno Anukkranayagam Barr-Kumarakulasinghe.

    There are articles I agree and disagree with what you write.
    This “Suck up Society” was one I did not agree.

    Neither was the one on “Puritan” Tamils being corrupted by Katubedda loose Sinhalese.

    Seems like you have started to subscribe to the Laws of Manu.

  • 0


    Would I be wrong,if I identify you as someone from the school by the sea? Also lived at the top of the school small-club grounds? Also a kinsman of that famous Advocate of yester-year C.S.BARR kUMARAKULASINGHE?
    For the moment this would suffice!

    • 0


      I identify you as someone from the school by the sea?

      Also lived at the top of the school small-club grounds?
      No, those were second cousins, gfathers brothers descendants.
      Barely knew them.

      We were the poor, and I am the youngest of that generation

      My mom was from Galle.
      Half Tamil, 1/4 Sinhala and 1/4 European.
      My uncle played cricket for the school by the sea.
      Co boarder with Dudley. My uncle the perfect Lotus Eater,

      I could not understand how the Jaffna Tamil relatives ran down my mothers family.
      They used to think they were servant class.

      If you have seen how Jaffna Tamils (my relatives) treated Sinhala workers it was pretty bad.
      Thats when I was 10 to 20 years old (1970-1980).

      On my moms side, every old retainer and descendant is considered family.
      They have rights to whatever left of land and house.

      The south is so much egalitarian, its not funny.

      Some references

      Edward Goldsmith
      The evidence from Sri Lanka, however, firmly refutes that argument: not only did villages run their own irrigation systems quite independently of the state but and this is critical they continued to
      do so even after the state effectively collapsed Instead, insists Tennent, the destruction and final abandonment of the tanks should be seen as the inevitable outcome of social decay and in particular, the disruption of the local communities by whom they were so long maintained. With that disruption came an end to that concord and union which Tennent held to be so critical to the running of the irrigation works. The consequences were undoubtedly disastrous:
      (Read in context of Joseph Tainter Collapse of Complex Societies. )

      The Gathering (elephants) in Minneriya: Natural?

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