28 September 2017

The politics of courtesy, respect and submission

Sinharatne Bandara (far right) is the kind of public servant this country needs

It is no secret that among the least respect people in Sri Lanka are politicians and police officers.  Other state employees, barring perhaps the security forces, are not respected much either.  Corporate entities on the other hand, among whom are the biggest crooks, embezzlers and wheeler-dealers, appear to be a rarified lot, perhaps because of the way they are cocooned and remain distanced from the public eye.  

What’s strange about this lack of respect is that it is a mind-thing.  When encountering arrogance, ignorance, sloth, incompetence and requests for bribes, the citizen rarely objects.  There is then a culture of resignation and consequently submission.  It is a culture that entrenches wrongdoing, emboldens the wrongdoer.  The hassle of it all and of course the low returns or even overall losses on investment probably contribute to the silence and inaction.  We suffer through it and we go home and bitch about it.  That’s about it. 

Then again, there are exceptions.  There are people who stand up, people who say ‘no’ or ‘no way!’  Consider the following story of a man called M.W.S. Bandara who worked at the Provincial Road Development Authority, North Central Province, posted in social media by his son Pandula Nayana Bandara.  The original was in Sinhala and was titled ‘බෑ ඩෝ’ which could be translated as ‘No can do!’ or ‘Forget it!’ (if one were polite) or ‘Buzz off buster’ or worse!  

M.W.S. Bandara worked at the Provincial Road Development Authority, North Central Province. He was the former General Manager. 1998. A provincial council minister had asked him to give a contract to a henchman. ‘No can do’ he said. His car was smashed up.

2001. The same minister pressurized him to approve tenders submitted by his henchman. ‘No can do’ he said. He was fired. He was vilified as a thief. He went to court. He was reinstated 11 years later along with compensation in 2012.

2012. Pressure was brought on him to sign a document approving a forged bill for Rs 1.4 billion. There were daily calls. A lot of pressure. Threats. ‘No can do,’ he said. A druggie of the area was employed to throw dirt in his face.

2015. Once again pressure was applied to sign documents for this same forged bill stating an amount of Rs 1.4 billion. He explained why it was not possible to pay the amount. He made sure that even a successor would not be able to approve this. He was made to retire at 57 although he was entitled to stay on until 60. He filed a case and it is still being heard. He will win it along with compensation.

This is how you say ‘no can do’ to politicians who want you to bend or break the rules. All you need is a backbone.

Yes, yes, I’m saying all this for the information of the dude who is acting like Veerappan these days.

That’s ma DAD!

This post was obviously promoted by the sil redi case where two high ranking officials were found guilty of violating established procedure, abuse of authority and irresponsible behavior in the management of public funds, among other things.  The example demonstrates that being firm, honest, disciplined and responsible could involve high personal cost.  Clearly it indicates that the overall institutional structure and the rules pertaining to them are too weak to protect honest public servants.  Consequently they empower the crooked politician and disempower the people.  

Clearly the citizens are also complicit in all this, as mentioned above.  Perhaps, for this reason, it is also incumbent on the citizen to reflect on citizenship, the rights therein and the related responsibilities even as collective action is plotted to enact more robust laws and put in place mechanisms that inhibit those inclined to abuse a flawed system.  In other words, just as we need more people like Mr. Bandara in the public service, we also need more citizens like him who in their everyday object to the objectionable even as they are grateful for the professionalism and courage of the Bandaras of this country.  

Here’s an example.  

On the 31st of August a convoy of vehicles, accompanying a VIP obviously, was causing a lot of unease on the Colombo-Kandy road.  There had been six vehicles including an ambulance, a back-up vehicles and several Defenders which were probably part of the security detail for the particular VIP.  Now there are no laws to state that ordinary traffic should make way for any VIP.  There’s courtesy at times and there’s submission to directives of the Traffic Police at other times.  We should mention that such ‘movements’ and the inconvenience caused to the general public were strongly objected to by those who promised to do away with all that on January 8, 2015.  On this day, like other days and occasions, the ordinary citizenry made way for the arrogant politician.  All, except one.  He did not budge. 

Finally, close to the restaurant called ‘Avanhala’ in Warakapola, this individual thought ‘enough is enough’.  Mahesha Thirimanne stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road, got out and spoke his mind.  What he told those in the back up vehicles in Sinhala can be translated thus:

“You have no legal right to inconvenience me or anyone else in this way.  Remember that if your boss and others like him had actually done their job over the past 70 years neither you nor I would have had to deal with a traffic problem.  All you can do is shoot me, but remember that it’s the taxpayers’ money that went to purchase your vehicle, we pay for the fuel, we pay your salaries, we pay for your uniforms, even your gun and the bullets are purchased by our money.”

Perhaps the recipients of this tirade were too shocked to respond. Perhaps as of now (but perhaps not so in time to come) their bosses and the government are too weak and/or unstable for arrogance to have rubbed off on them.  Anyway, they were silent.  No, they were silenced.  They were silenced by a citizen who knew his rights and responsibilities, and had the courage to say “no.”

I submit that in the absence of the political will (for obvious reasons of protecting self-interest), it is countless acts of courage such as these are what will create the culture necessary to obtain a change for the better.  This is not to say that courtesy is out of order or that we need to be disrespectful; by all means, but only where such is deserved.  One recalls the relevant line of the relevant stanza from the Maha Mangala Sutta:  පූජාච පූජ නීයානං — ඒතං මංගල මුත්තමං (Pūjā ca pūjanīyānam — etam mangala muttamam or “[to] honour those who are worthy of honour; this is [a] blessing supreme”) and of course the recommendation of giving those unworthy of such honour a wide berth.  

When the principle is adhered to, then, the honorable public servant and the public service are strengthened, the errant politician is made wary and there is hope for a better tomorrow for both  citizen and nation.  

The proposition is simple, really: we can either be a Bandara or a Thirimanne, or we can continue to be short-changed, insulted and humiliated by the arrogant and crooked. 


Mahinda Gunasekera said...

Those public servants who follow the official guidelines and refuse to bend the rules to curry favour with a corrupt political boss must be held in the highest esteem and even rewarded for doing the right thing. Mr. Bandara should be commended for his correct stance and the avenging politician brought to book. I wonder if any action has been taken against the offending politician who was attempting to defraud the public by having the official tag along with his corrupt actions? Similarly, the brave and upright position taken by Mahes Thirimanne who refused to be intimidated by the police accompanying some political bigwig with a bloated ego who expected him to endanger himself by moving to the edge of the road when he was following the road rules on a public highway. If it was an ambulance or firetruck rushing to help people in distress, it is understandable to make way where possible to allow the emergency vehicle to proceed.
I do hope the mainstream media would highlight these incidents as you have done in your blog, so that more members of the public would become aware of their upright conduct in the midst of shoddy behaviour on the part of politicians or their police escorts.

Nanda said...

Saadhu ! Saadhu ! Saadhu !

වන සිව්පාවුන් වැනි මිනිසුන් මැද​
දෙවිදේවතාවුන් වැනි මිනිසුන් ඇත​