John Calvin wrote: “When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers”. The Bible also says in Jeremiah 23:19 “See, the storm of the LORD will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked.”
These are timely warnings as boasts are made of having killed Velupillai Prabhakaran “like a dog,” as if justice is not to be feared. Indeed, no one of decent family kills even a dog.
That divine warning, as this article puts forward, is indeed, besides to the government as we Tamils like to think, also to the Tamil people.
We Tamils have feared and suffered much. We badly want an understanding government where we will have a say in our own governance and services and receive justice. That is democracy. I will point out our own deficiencies so that we through correction may claim our right to devolution. We have failed to run the Jaffna Municipal council. It has a new mayor after Emmanuel Arnold lost the budget vote. If the new mayor had also lost the budget vote, the Council will have been run by a Commissioner removing our devolved powers exercised through our elected officials. That is how close we were to lose our last bastion of democracy when the budget was passed on 27 Jan.
Jaffna Town Hall was destroyed by the LTTE in 1985 when it attacked the neighbouring Police Station. As such it is very difficult to find a good photo of it – photos of the Library burnt down by our government are everywhere and often presented as the original council building. Sri Lanka is rebuilding the Council but hardly 25% of the work is finished. India built us a cultural hall for Rs. 2.25 bn. It has been finished for 6 months but we are not ready to take over because we are not ready with running costs. Our international airport with Indian help is closed. No one cares.
The situation is the same everywhere. The UNDP gave billions to our province. Then Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran was refused permission to appoint his Australian “kinsman Nimalan Karthikeyan” in charge because of a conflict of interest and blamed by the UN for lobbying on his behalf. Wigneswaran then returned the funds in a huff.
Provincial Health Ministry Doctors have only 6 hours/day duty and they do not even work 6 hours. Doctors and Nurses are allowed 120 and 200 hours overtime respectively. Analyzing that, “a nurse gets only 80 hours a month for everything outside work including sleep,” says a reporter working on a big story on this. The province has 99 hospitals. Nineteen have no doctor. Of 30-35 new doctors only 2 were posted to hospitals without doctors.
A near-new Ambulance belonging to Northern Province Health Ministry went to Colombo. On the way back it met with an accident in Kurunagala. Cost of repairs is Rs. 18 lakhs. Director of Health Services Dr. A. Ketheeswaran asked the Secretary for money. When asked why when the vehicle was fully insured for 5 years, his reply was that, according to reporters, the insurance company refused. Not trusting his lieutenants, the Secretary pursued it. It turns out that the police report said the driver was drunk. Digging further, the ambulance was taken to Colombo on a private run certified as official by a doctor. The ambulance remains parked. The driver is driving another ambulance without an inquiry or suspension because that would net bigger fish.
Similarly, a Fire-Engine donated to the Jaffna Municipality was valued at Rs. 360 lakhs. A Defender was also gifted to go before the Engine to clear the way. Instead, it is used by Municipal Administrators for their own use. Going alone the Fire-engine rolled over twice in Neervely with one fatality and is a write-off. Insurance agreed to pay Rs. 62 lakhs, its declared value to save on premiums. The present Commissioner says that he continued the valuation by his predecessor. We have no Fire Engine now.
The Provincial Education Ministry has a high female official recruited around 1995 for a job asking for an OL Credit in Mathematics when she had only an S. Later, during her confirmation this was discovered. She was put in a lower post and then strangely reverted. Recently when a newspaper highlighted this, the husband turned up at the newspaper offices with a Credit certificate from a later date, saying she is now qualified. The newspaper which claimed that she was recruited without the required certificate stands by its story. No one punished. We learn Impunity from our armed forces.
In another incident, an official without any approval gave 36 appointments in Provincial Education and went off to work for the Official Languages Commission and has since retired. Now that the fraud is discovered, Northern Chief Secretary M.A. Pathinathan is reluctant to withdraw the appointments because the appointees say they applied and were appointed with no wrong-doing by them.
During the last elections Pathinathan was involved in backdating a transfer. To experienced SLAS officers, cheating is not a problem they cannot handle. The Governor perceived the need to punish a high-up government official but that was disallowed under election laws. In this case, K. Theivendram was to be moved out of Jaffna on 6 March 2019 in punishment for several alleged frauds according to Pathinathan, but really as political victimization according to Theivendram and his wife who also is a high-up in the Provincial Government. When Theivendram was transferred out, Mrs. Theivendram came to the Election Commission on 10 March or so alleging violation of election laws. With me and a Deputy Commissioner present, Mrs. Theivendram telephoned Ms. S. R. Wijeludchumi (Secretary, State Ministry of Community Relations), to find out the status of her husband’s transfer. We two in the room could overhear both sides as Mrs. Theivendram switched on the speaker on her telephone. Ms. Wijeludchumi at the other end nonchalantly stated that the Chief Secretary Pathinathan had asked her to predate the letter to before 2 March 2020 and she had just had the letter typed and would sign and give it to him. This kind of cheating is quite normal in government service – predating, adding decisions to minutes after a meeting, etc. As my Deputy Commissioner remarked, once done and filed with a pre-dated stamp, no one can challenge it. SLAS folk are masters at this fraud.
In the Vavuniya North Zonal Department of Education (one of 12) a Management Assistant aged 29 years appointed in 2007 was in charge of pay sheets. He put his name in 6 school lists, in addition to his job. Over the last 4.5 years he has collected Rs. Two crores and 26 lakhs. He has been under 2 accountants 2 and zonal directors who did not notice anything amiss. An inquiry has been going on for 3 months with no arrest or suspension. It has come out that the previous person in that post made Rs. 14,60,000 over 2 years. He paid it back and got transferred to the Provincial Health Ministry. The question is what auditors do. Again Tamil provincial officials have learnt of impunity from our generals.
In a Kilinochchi District Secretary’s office (of 4 offices), office furniture bought twice in one year was paid for three times. Checking, it was found that everything from pencils to bigger things was bought from that same shop. The two other customary quotations were from nonexistent shops. The shop itself belongs to a high-up at the DS office who has since transferred it to his wife. People I spoke to were reluctant to give personal details saying his wife and 2 daughters at the university “are poor things.” It shows the basis for impunity among us.
I can go on with an endless litany of our woes. Our garbage is rarely removed on the scheduled says. The collector openly asks for money or leaves it behind. I complained and it was removed once but not since then. I therefore burn or bury our garbage. Many people come in the night and dump garbage everywhere. It takes the council days to clean up. One site is a pond near Panangkulam Nachchi Amman Kovil on Kachcheri-Nallur Road next to where we buy purified well-water for drinking. During the rains, the pond with garbage all round overflowed. We had to go with expensive Colombo water.
To save groundwater the municipality decided that all septic tanks must be fully sealed by concrete. I complied because it is good for the environment. When our tank got full, I went to the Jaffna Municipality for their bowser service to empty our tank. At the gate itself the watcher advised me “Go to private people. These people with drag it and never do it.” I thought I should support our municipality. When it dragged on, I told the Mayor who had his own woes. I kept pressing and was told the ground is soft and their bowser would get stuck. Then I went to a Councillor who directed me to the engineer who promised to get it done in 2 days once the rains eased. Now it is over a month. The sun is shining. I have waited many days at home because I was promised the bowser which is yet to come. We flush very sparingly as the matter is leaking out of the sceptic tank.
We must learn to run our waste removal before we can run our province. The 3-chamber septic tank we had before never gave us this trouble with a faeces-smelling backyard. My late uncle, E.B. Anketell, Director of Public Health, told me how when he studied Engineering at University of Glasgow, his professor took water flowing out of the third chamber and drank it to show how purified it is. A municipality that insists on a fully concreted sceptic tank must provide a prompt service when tanks get full.
A measure of how backward Jaffna has become is the fictional doctorates by institutional heads who go as “Doctor” with no thesis to show – the Principals of Christian schools (Jaffna College, Uduvil Girls’ College and Angel International School) set a terrible example for their students. A Director of Education at my church, his wife (also an educationist) and bank manager son also boast doctorates. The Vice Principal of Jaffna College is also set to get his doctorate in March. Presumably this is because the Principal is pushed by the soon-retiring Bishop to be Bishop next year and the competition for his vacancy is beginning. Doctorates are on offer at Rs. 25,000 with no requirement to write a thesis. And, believe it or not, the peon of University of Jaffna’s Graduate School also boasts a doctorate!
I am aware that Sinhalese running the state will use this article as an excuse to not devolve power to us as we deserve. But I say that although God may not punish us for uncleared septic tanks He surely will for impunity for fraud and murder, for pardoning the murderer of a 5-year old child in Mirusuvil. This article is merely a call to get our things in order so that we may rule ourselves with justice and efficiency when we are allowed self-rule. Or we will have Rs. 25,000-PhD-holders running our Northern Provincial Government.