By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“Even if your people die of hunger
We’ll elect you for life….
We don’t have opinions
We have your light blinding our eyes…” – The Strong Heroes of Moscow (For the Assad Nation)
Imagine a man with no medical qualifications or training becoming the ‘official physician’ of the president of a country. Imagine that president proudly offering the ‘miraculous’ services this ‘personal physician’, to the rich and the famous, nationally and internationally.
This tale, worthy of a Kapuściński or even a Marquez, is a Lankan reality metaphorizing Rajapaksa Rule.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘personal physician’ Eliyantha White is now revealed as a ‘quack’. According to Dr. N. J. Nonis, the Registrar of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), “We do not have any information about his qualifications nor of his having been registries in the other two medical councils in Sri Lanka – Ayurveda or Homoeopathy” (Daily Mirror – 6.7.2011).
The President’s ‘miracle doctor’ (who is not even a doctor) seems part-responsible for the ‘banned-substances’ scandal rocking Lankan sports. National cricketer Upul Tharanga was recently convicted by the ICC of taking a banned-substance, albeit unknowingly: “The 26-year-old admitted the offence, saying he ingested the substance when drinking a herbal remedy given to him for a shoulder injury, the ICC said in a statement” (Bloomberg – 24.6.2011). Mr. Tharanga had claimed in an affidavit to the ICC that he obtained treatment solely from Mr. White for his shoulder injury.
In any other country the President would have tended a public apology to the wronged cricketer and the police would have commenced legal proceedings against the ‘faux-doctor’. Not in Sri Lanka. The President is silent about the depredations of his ‘miracle doctor’; these days his preoccupation is not ‘miracle cures’ but public morals: “We experience the impact of the Western Culture through television. I focused attention on the language used in the screenplay of several tele-dramas and advised the Chairman of the relevant television channel to suspend the telecast of such tele-dramas or to edit them to avoid the use of corrupt language” (Daily Mirror – 5.7.2011). While ‘corrupt language’ is hounded, corrupt conduct is permitted; the police, obviously taking the cue from their sovereign, is yet to move against Mr. White. In Sri Lanka the ‘law of the rulers’ has indeed replaced ‘the rule of law’.
The tale of the President and his faux-doctor is symbolic and symptomatic of the arbitrary exercise of power which is the norm in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka. State lands are sold in secret, without informing even the parliament. The Fauna and Flora Act is to be amended, to remove environmental-impediments to the Hambantota Commonwealth Games Folly (according to Haritha Viyaparaya, “construction for the proposed Hambantota games city is to include border areas of the Yala, Kumana and Lahugala national parks” – The Sunday Leader – 3.7.2011).
Power cuts are being implemented in the Biyagama Industrial Zone, with no prior warning, ‘causing chaos’; the cuts are being necessitated partly by ‘breakdowns’ in the newly-constructed Norochcholai and Kerawalapitiya plants (the Minister is busy seeking divine help to end hydro-electric shortage).
The recent petrol-crisis is a microcosm of Rajapaksa-governance. The authorities arbitrarily violated the 30 year-procedure of the CPC and delayed the opening of petrol-bids. This created an artificial crisis enabling the authorities to order fuel from a Dubai-based company unregistered with the CPC, citing time factors. (Incidentally, the payment for the contaminated consignment has not been suspended, as the Minister claimed; ‘a letter of credit has been opened with a state bank” – The Island – 6.7.2011).
Those who, either out of incompetence or cupidity created this crisis are still in possession of their jobs and privileges, while hapless consumers are struggling with broken-down vehicles and mounting repair-bills. When the President and his siblings make a habit of contravening rules, regulations and norms, lesser politicians/officials become motivated to follow suit, knowing that servility will keep them safe.
When the injured FTZ worker, Roshain Shanaka, was being taken to the hospital the police stopped and attacked the vehicle, according to the statement made by the driver at the magisterial inquiry. This incident vividly demonstrates the vindictiveness with which power-wielders at all levels deal with their ‘opponents’. Incidentally, if some police-personnel behaved with such brutality towards an injured ‘opponent’ (who was a civilian and a Sinhalese) in the South, is it not possible for some armed forces personnel to behave with even greater vindictiveness towards LTTE prisoners in the North?
The gruesome scenes of prisoner abuse/execution depicted in the Channel 4 documentary supposedly happened after the war was won; thus these alleged depredations were motivated by a deadly combination of sadism and revenge. A credible investigation into these incidents is necessary, because if true, they indicate the existence of a mindset which is permissive of atrocities. And such a mindset is not going to respect provincial, ethnic or religious borders, as the sadistic attempts to deny injured FTZ workers of medical treatment indicate.
Resistance is a rarity in Rajapaksa-Sri Lanka but last week we witnessed two instances of citizens taking principled stands. The Sri Lanka Medical Council commented on ‘Whitegate’, braving the displeasure (or worse) of powers-that-be: “Eliyantha White who calls himself a doctor should be prosecuted under the Cosmetics, Devices and Drugs Act or the Penal Code if he had allegedly prescribed the drug Prednisolone to Sri Lanka cricketer Upul Tharanga…” (Daily Mirror – 6.7.2011). And in his eloquently forthright Colin Cowdrey Lecture, former Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara commented on the corrosive effect politicisation has had on Lankan cricket.
Given the absolute intolerance characteristic of Rajapaksas-Rule, vengeance will raise its grotesque head, ere long. Pressure is likely to be brought upon the SLMC to recant (or remain silent). According to media reports, the Sports Minister has already ordered an inquiry into Mr. Sangakkara’s speech while the state-owned Lankapuwath has commenced a mud-slinging campaign (which usually precedes a public-lynching) claiming that Mr. Sangakkara ‘deviated from the theme to be critical of affairs surrounding the game in his own country’. If we, as a society, maintain our customary silence, our usual lethargy and our normal indifference, the SLMC and Mr. Sangakkara will be hunted and brought-down, demonstrating the dangerous-futility of resistance.
Only a masochistically short-sighted society fails to defend those who speak out on its behalf and against the abuses of power-wielders. The Rajapaksas use power with a licentiousness totally contrary to intelligent and sensible governance. Such abuse of power comes with a price tag – to be paid not by the rulers but by the ruled. The fate of national cricketer Upul Tharanga, who came to grief because he accepted the President’s offer and obtained ‘miraculous’ treatment from a faux-doctor in good faith, is indicative of what is in store for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans under Rajapaksa rule. Post-conviction, Mr. Tharanga said, ruminatingly, ‘I hope my fellow sportsmen will learn from my experience and be more vigilant when taking medical treatment, so that their careers do not suffer in the way that mine has’ (Bloomberg – 24.6.2011).
The lesson is applicable to his fellow countrymen too; just as buyers must beware of fraudulent sellers, voters must be on guard against rulers who try to short-change the country behind some beguiling-façade.