By Piyatissa Andarawewa –
What befell Tissa Vitarana speaks much for Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s style of government. Much was expected of Gotabaya and his Viyathmaga professionals. That Gotabaya failed is not surprising. He was never a politician or a good administrator. He ran away from the Ealam War to the US and returned only to be involved in his brother Mahinda’s Presidential election campaign. As Secretary, Defence (he was fond of being described as Defence Secretary as in the country of his adoption, where Ministers are “Secretaries”) he was known to be ruthless and caustic and wielded power more than Ministers did only due to his relationship to the President. He was never known to have ideas of his own. But the voters who elected him believed that the Viyathmaga professionals would make up for anything that Gotabaya did not have. Now, it seems, the Viyathmaga guys and gals have hardly any professionalism or original thinking.
The treatment or, rather the ill-treatment of Tissa Vitarana (Tissa V) by Gotabaya is illustrative of the latter’s own ills. GR cannot interact with genuine professionals who are independent when it comes to their fields of expertise. Forget that Tissa V is Dr NM Perera’s nephew who cannot hold a candle to NM as a politician. Forget that he has ruined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the country’s oldest political party, to the extent that his would-be successors are all more Rajapaksists than Sama Samajists and will surely take the Union Place party office with them to the Pohottuwa camp. But to give the devil his due, Tissa V is a scientist and a very good one in his own right.
Just look at his credentials: Doctor of Medicine degree in clinical medicine from the University of Ceylon; Diploma in Bacteriology from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Ph.D. in Virology from the University of London; head of Virology in the Medical Research Institute (MRI) from 1972 to 1994; Director of the MRI from 1983 to 1994; consultant virologist at the Edinburgh City Hospital’s Regional Virus Laboratory in the 1980s; deputy director of the Victoria Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne from 1991 to 1993; Professor of Microbiology at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura from 1995 to 2000; advisor to the World Health Organization on virology for years.
One of his detractors claimed that Tissa V is not entitled to call himself “Professor” as he was not awarded the title of “Professor Emeritus” upon his retirement because he was not a senior professor for ten years, which is a requirement. Oh, come on! Yes, the only MP in the current Parliament who is a genuine Professor Emeritus is G.L. Peiris. But isn’t Tissa V miles ahead of Channa Jayasumana who calls himself Professor having being an Associate Professor at Rajarata University for a few years? We live in a country where Associate Professors allow people to call them “Professor Emeritus” after retirement.
The undeniable fact is that Tissa V is one of the best virologists in this country. Even at the age of 87, he has only to say that he is available to invited to any global initiative on Covid-19. But Gotabaya and his Viyathmaga advisors don’t want him any where near a local Covid-19 committee or task force. It is well and good that Sudarshani Fernandopulle was appointed Minister of State in charge of Primary Health Services, Pandemics and COVID Prevention. But isn’t Tissa V the obvious choice to be Minister with Cabinet rank in charge of COVID prevention? What is worse is that Tissa V is not even been given enough Parliamentary time to talk on the subject. Is it because he is against some economic policies of the Government too?
The Viyathmaga “professionals” have failed. One of the best examples is Seetha Arambepola, an ENT specialist who made people cry with her emotion-driven speeches in the run-up to the elections and the election campaigns. Come COVID-19 and she assures the country – “We have a secret cure for COVID”. People are dying in the hundreds. Where, pray, is that cure?
First, we had the Eliyantha White’s “pan kalaya” which the Minister of Health herself and other dignitaries poured into the rivers of Sri Lanka to rid the country of COVID. Then came a succession of “Paniyas” – the Dhammika Paniya, Sudarshana Paniya, Ravana Paniya and the latest is “Hada Sarani” that a psychiatrist from Karapitiya Hospital is supposed to have made. Imagine a psychiatrist coming out with a cure for COVID-19!
All this when the foremost virologist in the country is kept out of anti-COVID initiatives and even denied speaking time in Parliament.