Naming and shaming is considered to be a useful method available to the public to express their disapproval of public figures, business leaders and others in positions of power and authority who have failed to maintain reasonable standards of integrity. Sadly, naming and shaming does not work in Sri Lanka. Investigative journalists have risked their lives and livelihood over and over again in exposing hundreds of cases of scandalous behaviour by public figures but their own journals and the rest of the media soon begin to look for new headlines and lose interest because they know, by past experience, that the chances of the Police or the Bribery Commission or any other relevant authority taking any action are pretty remote. It is more than likely that it is the journalist who will be harassed. Hence, for the miscreants, any shame that arises from unfavourable media publicity will last only a few days or so. They may even become heroes.
An appalling case of the kind of conduct that many vocal Sri Lankans applaud is the case of Rohana Wijeweera, who was responsible for leading a movement against the lawful government of Sri Lanka on two separate occasions, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent persons and misled youth. Leading members of the media were among his victims. Inter alia, he caused his followers to rob banks, kill hundreds of innocent civilians in a brutal manner, attack Katunayake Airport, violate the sanctity of the Dalada Maligawa, and attempt to kill Sirimavo Bandaranaike in order to capture state power. One would have thought that each of these crimes by itself was so shameful that no one would want to be associated with Wijeweera and his atrocities. But what do we see? Other than for a few persons who have publicly expressed shock that the life and achievements of Wijeweera continue to be commemorated with much pomp and ceremony, there has been little condemnation of those who persist in acclaiming him as a great leader. Have we became so foolish and shameless that we have lost our sense of right and wrong to tolerate this kind of nonsense without widespread societal protest? For his admirers to ask the public to forgive and forget Wijeweera’
s crimes would be one thing but it is quite a different matter to mislead gullible members of the public, particularly those who were not old enough in 1988-1990 to understand what the public was being subjected to then.
Moving from the national scale to a local one, we hear ad nauseam endless speeches being made at funerals about the uncounted good qualities of the deceased irrespective of whether he was a rapist, drug dealer, torturer, murderer, rotten politician or just a good man. Those listening to the praise lavished on this kind of character, often by religious persona, must perforce wonder whether there is any merit in leading an exemplary, honest, compassionate life because such speeches, as well as appreciations in the media, do not differentiate between the admirable and the abominable. Simply put, when you die in Sri Lanka, all your sins are forgiven; so why hesitate to sin? In this lotus-eating land of ours, it is only the good that men do that lives after them; the evil is always interred with their bones. Anything, however appalling, that you have done will, for all practical purposes, not be mentioned publicly from the day you drop dead.
Many of us will recall the deplorable episode where a convicted rapist was given a presidential pardon and then made a JP in a despicable misuse of presidential power. With that as a disgraceful precedent, today we see a number of characters who have been prominently named in the media as having been involved in fraudulent cheque transactions, violence against public servants, dubious pyramid schemes, crooked privatisations, manipulating food supplies etc being installed in powerful positions in the machinery of the State and unashamedly protected and encouraged in their villainy. On the basis that a man is judged by the company he keeps, what is the public to think of the appointing authorities who surround themselves with charlatans like these?
We may also mention that, last year, the Supreme Court found two Ministers guilty of misleading the Cabinet and concealing vital facts from it. Do these Ministers feel even the slightest sense of remorse for what they did or mortification at being publicly exposed? Not at all. They are still in the Cabinet and even have the sheer effrontery to pontificate now and then on, of all things, the merits of Dhamma education.
Some time ago, a leading religious MP sold his duty-free car permit to a businessman to buy a Mercedes Benz. This monk’s illegal transaction was discovered later and given wide publicity. Did he apologise or express regret? No; instead he had the gall to say that, even if the pirated Mercedes Benz was returned to him, he would give it to the dogs in his pirivena. In defence of this monk, a senior Minister brazenly confessed that he, too, had sold his permits on more than one occasion and that the majority of MPs had done the same. He even said that, because of this, the best thing would be to make all these illegal transactions a thing of the past by changing the law so as to allow MPs’ to sell their permits legally! Not long thereafter, the JVP has revealed that, instead of the small Indian cars that they, in their election manifesto, favoured for MPs, they had gone in for more luxurious forms of transport. They admit that these had been purchased with funds provided by the party, claiming therefore, contrary to the law, that the ownership was vested in the party and not in the MPs in whose names the duty-free car permits had been issued. The party shows no contrition that it broke both its election pledges and the law.
The latest news is that the father of the original Chintana has admitted being involved closely with a duty-free car permit infraction and has come out with some cock-and-bull excuses regarding the transaction. He is the spiritual and intellectual leader of an organisation claiming to be more patriotic than the rest of us. The least that the public would have expected from him was that he would sustain his purportedly lofty precepts by ethical example. Inescapably, we are reminded of Samuel Johnson’s celebrated words about those who take refuge in patriotism.
One is compelled to conclude that the act of ordinary citizens or journalists naming prominent delinquents in the media does not have any impact at all on the scoundrels concerned because these delinquents have no idea of what the word Ashame means. We have to break past their complete indifference to media criticism and public opinion. CIMOGG believes that only the Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters – to whom every person of importance goes to pay public homage – have the necessary authority and influence to call forcefully for the government to distance itself from criminal elements and persons of dubious background. A strong demand needs to be addressed by the two Mahanayakes to the President that persons who have been credibly and publicly accused of having broken the law should not be appointed by him to positions of authority until such persons are cleared by a properly constituted body of independent persons. This body should preferably be the Constitutional Council, which the President has undertaken to activate very soon. The Mahanayakes should make it abundantly clear, in the form of a public statement, that they will refuse to receive or give their blessings to anyone of questionable character who is appointed to any important post without the specified clearance. We believe that, if the two Mahanayakes were to take such a firm stand, there would be a sea change in the quality of those who are entrusted with the resources of this country.