Colombo Telegraph

The Media As A Tool For Social Action

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

One of the recent bonuses of writing a weekly column for both an English Sunday newspaper and to a web publication has been the development of an informal “think tank” in the matter of seeking social justice for the vast majority of rural Sri Lankans whose travails go unreported otherwise.

Amidst the barrage of downright racist filth, up to and including the “c-word,” have been thoughtful suggestions from readers as to how those of us who live in the great “outback” of rural Sri Lanka might seek some little relief from the problems that face us on a daily basis and to which politicians, supposedly representing us at local, regional, provincial, and national level pay not the slightest attention. After all, they are too busy lining their pockets to listen to their alleged constituents and have tools waiting in the wings to provide appropriate “persuasion” in the event that their constituents show signs of wanting to ensure that they do not return to their positions of absolute power. This “persuasion” is basically of two kinds – crumbs from the table at which the politicians sup and the threat of bodily harm. You want proof? Check the track records of those who rode back into Parliament on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s (MR1) coattails. I don’t think you could find one who had a non-violent, uncorrupt track record among their considerable number still on our political scene.

A significant number of readers of Colombo Telegraph, a web publication, have provided leads as to how government legal institutions might be contacted in order to seek the relief that we so desperately need and cannot afford to buy in the marketplace that is Sri Lanka today. For that, I and my neighbours will always be grateful.

However, another serious problem facing all Sri Lankans, urban middle class to countryside peasant, is of a “New Class” that only a Milovan Djilas may have been able to do justice to: those who’ve become the new beneficiaries of the new Ohey Palayang (OP) dispensation despite being part of the violence and corruption of the MR1 entourage. The suggestions made by a number of readers as to how to circumvent the bureaucratic roadblocks, unfortunately, do not appear to provide a solution to what I am about to relate.

A significant number of the political flotsam and jetsam on our national scene are not only being tolerated by the OP dispensation but have begun ascending the (new) ladder of wealth, power and privilege under the Maithripala/Ranil (MR2) government! In fact, I have solid evidence of one individual that I have had cause to have contact with who has not only been restored to “respectability” after exposure of his conduct vis-à-vis human rights during the not-so-recently-concluded war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but has been placed at the head of one of Sri Lanka’s premier medical institutions by the official mouthpiece and Minister of Health of the OP lot, Rajitha Senaratne.

I have had reason to seek communication with this particular individual in the matter of what probably constitutes gross negligence or medical malpractice at the institution he heads and to describe his conduct as duplicitous would be to understate the case. A little sidebar to that business is the fact that this individual had probably the most senior position in the hierarchy of the Nimal Siripala de Silva Health Ministry when that Ministry, even by Sri Lankan standards, was considered rotten to the core and was held responsible for thousands of dengue deaths because the only known and proven preventive to the spread of Dengue, developed by Cuba, was never used appropriately in Sri Lanka for the usual reasons: the right palms were not “greased.” Guess what? Almost immediately after Nimal Siripala de Silva relinquished this Ministry to (our current President) Maithripala Sirisena, the individual concerned departed for greener (international) pastures. However, that sojourn was not to last forever because his one-year contract was not renewed by the international agency for reasons on which I will not speculate.

Return to Sri Lanka was not to result in any reduction in the man’s earning power, however, when a multinational corporation chose to place him on their directorate at a truly phenomenal salary. The reason at the time was simple: he had ready access to the Royal Court of Rajapaksa. He didn’t have to wait till the cows came home for this (enormous) boost to his earnings despite the fact that he probably had less knowledge of that conglomerate’s (bovine) product than even I do!

When I had cause to write to him officially, I did not (and have not, up to date) received a formal acknowledgement of my complaint. Instead, I had a (very polite) telephone call, initiated by him, during which this gentleman agreed 100% with the seriousness of the complaint and said he would forthwith commence an investigation. I chose not to remind him that, several weeks before, when he, personally, visited the victim he had assured her that he would be investigating the incident “immediately” at that time!

The plot thickens.

I followed up the phone call I received with a request that I be sent a simple written acknowledgement of my complaint. Since that was not forthcoming either, I repeated my request, under registered cover this time, with a copy of original request.

Up to time of writing I have not received so much as a “form letter” acknowledging my request.

On April 28th, a person claiming to be a Director of the hospital in question called the victim on her mobile phone and wanted her to come down to Colombo for further discussion of the matter. On being told that the recuperating patient’s condition didn’t permit of such a journey she agreed to her sending her a response by email. She did, providing quite a detailed description of the hell she went through at the hospital concerned and the fact that she had to spend more than an additional month in Colombo, away from home to deal with a post-surgical infection caused by the use of (obviously) non-sterile catheters.

What was most interesting about this conversation perhaps was its opening when this Director said that they had had “several letters from one Emil van der Poorten” which had prompted his call. I will put that in the context it deserves: the Director had made the call at the behest of the most senior functionary in her (the Director’s) institution who had previously phoned me, addressing me by my first name and had, in fact, been a guest under the roof of the recipient of the shoddy medical practice and yours truly!

If this pattern of conduct doesn’t show an attempt at blatant deviousness, it obviously provides evidence of stupidity certainly not befitting the chief functionary of one of Sri Lanka’s premier hospitals.

Given all of this, what does Rajitha Senaratne/the OP government “owe” such a person that they should elevate him despite his track record, some of which at least, has appeared in Rajan Hoole’s writings about “the conflict” in Sri Lanka and the executions of Contre Le Faim personnel at Mutur. As a side bar, I presume that readers of these words are aware of Mr. Hoole’s credentials, particularly in the matter of his having been an LTTE target and the farthest thing from a Tiger mouthpiece that one can imagine.

On a previous occasion when I had occasion to take Minister Kiriella to task for his attempt to generate an audience on false pretences, he came back, in Colombo Telegraph, with a “rebuttal” that maintained some distance from the truth and which was subsequently proved, by the very actions of his subordinates, to have been untrue.

Perhaps, Rajitha Senaratne and his buddies can repeat that feat!

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