Mavericks still grab headlines | Sunday Observer

Mavericks still grab headlines

Most governments in recent Sri Lankan history have had their mavericks. They are gaffe prone, engage in outlandish acts that question their suitability to serve as public representatives and, in general, give their Governments a bad name.

The Jayewardene Government had one in Vi Ja Moo (as he preferred to be called) Lokubandara and the Premadasa government had A. J. Ranasinghe. Both Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa were blessed with the company of the incomparable Mervyn Silva.

While Lokubandara and Ranasinghe were relatively harmless with their idiosyncrasies, Silva took his actions to a different level. Once he infamously tied a public officer to a tree and later claimed, it was all an act. The officer, obviously scared for his life and of possible repercussions, did not object to this outrageous act.

On another occasion, he stormed the office of Rupavahini, only to be booed and daubed in paint. Silva also stormed into another private television network, threatening its staff. He engaged in thuggery and intimidation so much so that his behaviour became emblematic of the lawlessness of the regimes he served.

Despite such a horrendous track record, Silva was invited to be a judge in a popular reality television show in yet another television station. That showed how beholden institutions are to politicians in power and the contempt with which Silva would have treated the media, knowing that he could get away with anything. To date, he has not suffered any legal consequences for his actions.

So impudent was Silva that he also allowed his son Malaka Silva to run amok in the city’s night clubs, bashing people. In the end, he became such an embarrassment that no party offered him nominations at the last General Elections in August 2015.

However, if one hoped that Silva being denied nominations was an indication that our major political parties had learnt their lesson and are turning a new leaf, we now know this is not so. Mavericks there are plenty in this Government too, even though it promised good governance and the rule of law.

At present, it seems as if there is a keen tussle for the role of main maverick in this Government. That is between the two Palithas, Palitha Thevarapperuma and Palitha Range Bandara. While the former represents the Kalutara district, the latter is from the Puttlam district, and both from the United National Party.

Thevarapperuma has engaged in protests against decisions he disagrees with, to the level of direct confrontation and intimidation. He lies across roads blocking them. On one occasion he tried to hang himself from a ceiling fan in a school Principal’s office in an attempt to secure admission for a child.

Range Bandara is a different kettle of fish. A former Police officer, he is more subtle in his methods. He is now in the news because his son Yashodha has met with a serious accident, allegedly while under the influence of liquor and driving a state-owned vehicle. It is alleged that weapons were also found in the vehicle.

On the face of it, one could argue that this is just another road traffic accident. It is Range Bandara’s public defence of his son that is arousing interest. Bandara claims, the liquor found in the vehicle was not vodka but water in a vodka bottle. He claims that his son was in fact the Media Secretary in his Ministry, so he was entitled to drive a government vehicle. He also claims, the weapons allegedly found in the vehicle were planted by others.

All this, despite Yashodha Bandara being charged with driving offences which caused a fatal accident two years ago, a charge which is still pending in court. Therefore, the general public can be excused if they feel a sense of déjà vu, a la Mervyn Silva!

Thankfully, the accused was remanded, pending further investigations, an indication that the law is taking its proper course. Later, he was released on bail. There is no doubt the issue will attract great public scrutiny in the coming weeks.

Nevertheless, the bigger picture raises more questions. Is it ethical for a Minister to go public with the claimed innocence of his son, when it is a matter under investigation and will most likely result in court proceedings? Doesn’t that amount to subtle intimidation of the investigating officers?

Aspersions have been cast, as to whether Yashodha Bandara was in fact the Minister’s Media Secretary. Even if it was so, is it ethical for a Minister to appoint his kith and kin to positions of public responsibility at the tax payer’s expense? Was that position properly advertised and was Yashodha Bandara selected on merit? We think not. Of course, this is not an issue for Bandara alone, many other Ministers are guilty of the same practice.

Ministerial- and recently, even Presidential- offspring behaving as if they were immune from the law is nothing new in our land. The public have expressed displeasure about this and comments in the social media in response to the latest episode involving the Bandaras is ample testimony of their anger and resentment.

Yet, the trend continues and the offenders get away, scot free. It seems as if when one politician’s brat is brought to heel, another one emerges to grab the headlines. We have seen the offspring of Silva, S. B. Dissanayake and Keheliya Rambukwella make nuisances of themselves. Among the fathers, only Dissanayake was wise enough to ‘export’ the offender overseas; the others, like Bandara now, justified their son’s actions.

This government may have promised good governance and the rule of law. Despite all the brickbats being hurled against it, even its critics will concede that it is an improvement on its predecessor, at least on the issue of the rule of law. After all, there was a time when the British Government had to threaten, with a cancellation of the Commonwealth Summit to get a local politician charged with the rape and murder of tourists prosecuted!

Still, it has much more to do, to clean up the ‘swamp’ near Diyawanna Oya. To do so, it must get rid of its mavericks first and there is no sign of that happening anytime soon.