By Emil van der Poorten –
After the publication of my piece about the lingering death of an old friend and the truly loving and humane people around him, I had, as might be expected, a few friends from that generation at Trinity College, Kandy (TCK) to which both my late friend and I belonged calling me with little bits of his life of which I had not been aware, particularly in the matter of victimization and harassment by politicians. I checked out these morsels of information and found that on more than one occasion he had paid the price for not conniving with the minions of major politicos to supply sub-standard foodstuffs to workers on the estates for which my friend had complete management responsibility. Interestingly, his transfer to less desirable “billets” had been “arranged” by the very highest levels of each of the major parties of that (and the current) time.
Also, another friend of my vintage twitted me for not providing more “balance” to my story by juxtaposing it against the more familiar tale of the many who “went with the flow,” doing very well as a result. Then he told me that the recent ‘career advancement’ of a gentleman of our mutual acquaintance was an appointment to an apex research organization in the plantation sector. This particularly interested me because, during a relatively brief career in the plantation sector prior to my departure to Canada in late 1973, I was elected to office in organizations representative of the plantation and livestock sectors, chairing the Kurunegala District Planters’ Association and serving as the national organization’s representative on a relevant crop research Board. There, I had the great good fortune to serve with people of the highest caliber in the matter of formal education relevant to the crop, experience and absolute integrity. None of us were appointed by virtue of political associations or personal friendships. We were simply considered the most appropriate individuals to serve on the Board in question and I, certainly, considered it a privilege to provide a volunteer service to a part of the plantation sector that helped put bread on our tables and those of many of our fellow citizens.
History had bequeathed the proverbial horse-shoe to the person who was being compared (or contrasted) to my recently-deceased friend. He had been fortunate enough to inherit what amounted to a household last name in Sri Lankan politics over the years. This certainly gave him a “leg-up” in the scheme of things as familial connections swiftly overtook all other considerations in advancing one’s prospects for advancement in the waning years of the twentieth century in Sri Lanka.
“School connections” didn’t hurt either. In this instance, clutching his horseshoe for good luck, he hitched his wagon to a political star whose fortunes were in the ascendant. Meteor-like! The sudden and irrevocable departure from the political field of this mentor, didn’t deter the subject of this narrative one whit. He quickly established very cordial relations with the lady who was to be the most recent in the chain of Bandaranaikes to control the country. In all fairness this move should be viewed against a backdrop of Sri Lankan politics when the divisions among “leftists,” “rightists” and those claiming to be on the “middle path” were more than blurred. Political principles and economic theories were sliding away as bare-knuckled banditry very swiftly took their place.
If you think that what I’ve described is chameleonic conduct, consider that, when Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) succeeded Chandrika, of whom the incoming President was certainly no favourite, the subject of my narrative shifted gears very smoothly and was in anything but ill odour as far as MR and the Sycophancy he led was concerned. A public display of support to the President when one of his “photo-ops” with wild elephants went sour did not hurt in maintaining the friendship of a President whose recognized Achilles heel was susceptibility to flattery and a (sometimes-wavering!) loyalty to those he saw as his friends.
Anyway, the subject of this little tale continued his progress along the path of success, without, as they used to say, anything resembling “let or hindrance.”
The effectiveness of this strategy was proven – in spades – when, in the most recent spate of “plum” appointments his name featured very prominently on the list. This, I understand, was despite both the Prime Minister and President of our Ohey Palayang government issuing instructions that, on no account, should anyone over 70 years of age be appointed to any of these positions.
On more than one occasion, when people have attributed selfless and praiseworthy conduct on the part of some individual simply to his/her having attended a “good school,” I have admonished them that there were (and are) many old boys of those schools whose adherence to principle might have left something to be desired but that fact had in no way impeded their progress. This could well be one of those occasions.
This is not the first occasion on which I have drawn attention to appointments of this kind from the Ministry of Plantations. The only difference this time was that the Minister of Plantations had a different name.
There used to be a cynical saying that, “The golden rule is that whoever has the gold makes the rules.” I’d like to add to that what appears to be the written-in-stone Sri Lankan one that reads: “What’s the use of power if you can’t apply it to breach the rules?!”