The Sunday Leader

They Own The Roads

By Ravi Perera

One morning a friend and I were driving past the turn off to the Presidents house in Colombo Fort when a policeman on duty abruptly halted our line of cars to enable a single vehicle coming out of that road to drive through. It was a non-descript Japanese car yet for that policeman a car coming out of the direction of the Presidents’ house was important enough to disrupt the flow of traffic. Down that road, apart from the residency of the President, there are several other offices. The car could have belonged to any one of them.
“This is a very common experience in Sri Lanka, isn’t it?” My friend who now lives in the United States remarked “Anything to do with a politician in power will override all laws and even niceties. Forget about the President’s office. Even when a member of parliament drives out of his house the traffic will be stopped.”
I had to admit this observation was quite true. A policeman, who would have been taught in the Police academy that all are equal in the eye of the law and wants to take that motto seriously, is unlikely to have a long career in the service. In present Sri Lanka everything has to bend to the will of politicians. The State structure, the laws and even the people are there as mere decorations. It is said that Pakistan is an army with a country. It could very well be said of Sri Lanka that it is   a bunch of politicians who have got hold of a country.
These days when the world outside seems to be pondering the legitimacy of our State structure it will do us well to consider the role of that sentinel   of the law directing the traffic in heart of Colombo. According to what law does he act? If we were to observe the poor man for a few hours it will be apparent that in his mind there is a sizable segment of our population who are above the law, at least the traffic laws.
It is widely accepted today that for a State to win legitimacy in the eye of the world, it must have a democratic system, an independent legal structure which applies to all including the head of that State, a more or less objective bureaucracy applying the rules evenly, a free media and above all a reasonably prosperous and enlightened populace. If any of these ingredients is missing we could be looking at a rogue State, which is arbitrary and unpredictable. Now in Sri Lanka we undoubtedly have a democratic system, although open to abuse and manipulation. As to whether we have an independent legal structure or an objective bureaucracy is doubtful, at the best an arguable proposition. Neither can we be convinced   that the levels of prosperity and enlightenment among our public is sufficient to ensure a healthy engagement in the process of governance.
“Even in a country like America you will not see traffic interrupted for politicians who are after all volunteers to public office. If at all, the exceptions would be the President and maybe the Vice-President. They are as you know the most powerful men in the world. In the UK many ministers use public transport. They don’t think of public office as a license to ignore the law and even simple courtesies. In Sri Lanka the Police seem to legitimise a certain way of behavior among politicians.” my friend observed.
“I don’t blame the poor policemen. The whole thing is so politicised that the politicians are above the law. They control the mobs, the police, and the entire system,” I countered.
“As it is this country is run like a private company owned by a few share holders who are also its directors. They can do anything. If they want to buy or sell company assets it is simple. They can bring anybody in as a share holder. If necessary they can amend the articles of the company. As private companies are generally run this approach is fine. But at the same time we are pretending to be like a publicly quoted company. In a public company the directors cannot act arbitrarily. There are many stakeholders whose interests need to be taken into account,” he explained.
It seems that we approach problems of today with the attitudes of years past. Add to that the incredible longevity of our politicians, men who entered politics three or four decades ago and refuse to let go the reins, we indeed face a huge predicament. Men whose ideas and reflexes were fashioned in the era of the cold war are deciding issues of the electronic age.
A few minutes later we were again stopped in the middle of the road. A sinister looking convoy, huge four wheel drive vehicles with tinted glasses, uniformed out-riders zig-zagging in dark goggles whizzed past.
“I think that must be someone from the forces. They sure are protecting themselves,” I said.
“Who from?” inquired my friend.

18 Comments for “They Own The Roads”

  1. Panduka Dasanayake

    Probably, from themselves!

  2. mohan samaranayaka

    send a copy of this article to MARA in sinhala

  3. dANTE

    It is you put these people into power and don’t blame others.

  4. John

    Who pays for all these unproductive waste the poor direct & indirect public and some of the general public are poor & malnourished.

  5. Gamini

    Sri Lanka is a country full of “boru shoke”. The politicians convoys are a manifestation of that.

  6. GAD

    Very good article. Can someone please tell me whether this kind of traffic handling can be challenged in a court of law or not.

  7. HH

    It is a pitty in the 21st century with civilized democracies in the world, our fellow Sri Lankans have to live with this barbaric policiticians.

    Aren’th there any opportunity for an black & white revolution or lankan spring to teach these politicians a lesson or two and get then to live behind bars. I have heard of great soldiers, great seamen and officers & gentlemen in the Sri Lankan forces.

    We pray to god to save Sri Lanka from these thugs.

  8. BG

    Looking at one’s face the Law will differ in Sri Lanka. Different strokes for different folks ….that how it is and we are sick of it!

  9. All these shows where the country leads. When the whole world is developing day by day Sri Lanka is being thrown into a precpie by the so called patriot government. Even the national museum been vandalize and no one caught. Until someone who is honest come and govern the country, it will further deteriorate. I still wonder how people tolerate the miserable governance. Looks like people still live under delusion.

  10. Leena and Meena

    This is why people in SL are living in poor third world conditions b/c of babaric politicians

  11. West is Best

    This will never happen in my beautiful west where the law is followed unto death.

  12. N. Solomon

    Its a case of Sri Lankans having got their just desserts. Our fellow citizens are not entitled to a civilised democracy. Look all around you and what do you see my friend injustice,revolting behaviour and repulsive attitudes even amongst the most ordinary folks. listen to the language they speak crude, third class and contemptible. Where have all the respect and dignity in speech and behaviour gone? We lament for the bygone eras when gentlemanly behaviour ruled supreme. Basically the politicians themselves need a lesson in gentlemanly manners atrocious! I say. Shouting themselves hoarse as if to prove their oratory skills better than any other, they only manage to pass out a whole of stinking shit

  13. migara

    Dear Sir
    If you don’t like the way our country is now please go to uk or any other west country all you guys do talk shit.
    all of you must be from the west cleaning the white man ass don’t you guys have anything better to do .

  14. Katmai

    I’ve heard this “blame the politicians” game more than I can care to remember. Have you ever noticed that at all of these conversations people are quick to contributed with their take on what is wrong with the country but no one suggests a solution for any of the problems?

    It seems like everyone draws a complete blank if you ask “so what can be done to change this?” No one has got good ideas anymore?

  15. Two things 1.,he is Our KIng,KIng Kakille not Dutu Gamunu 2.This is why they make us hate us west.

  16. Vis8

    “Even in a country like America you will not see traffic interrupted for politicians who are after all volunteers to public office. If at all, the exceptions would be the President and maybe the Vice-President. -
    Have you been to America and seen this??????????? Yes, it happens in Washington DC all the time.

    Go get a life, hallucinating moron.

  17. Nimal

    When the colonial left us in 1948 they left an orderly country where the authorities respect the people and vice versa.We hardly had crime in the country as far as I could remember and there’s was much charity and respect for one another just as is in UK and no one is above law.What is happening now is we are going back to the pre colonial times where the leaders were acting like dictators and their people around them were equally bad and the man in the street is no body.Which ever leader who comes next will be even worse and never better.Our leaders are the product of our equally bad people.Sri lankans are the worst people I have employed in UK.They are work shy,try to do quick job without a proper finish.find every excuse to keep away from work using religion,sickness as an excuse.My workers in Sri Lanka are even worse.They constantly have Pinkams,weddings,funerals etc to keep away from work the reason is I give a more than a proper wage that make them work only 4 days instead of 5 or 6 days.I truly pity the private sector in SL and I admire them for motivating the employee.This slackness of the people rise up all the way to to the top where the leaders are casual about their obligations and duty to the people who put them there.Unless we get leaders from the coporate sector or from abroad and try to uploft the people from the street leval to the top,have little chance saving the country from the rot.Western devoloped countries will help us a bit by restricting theieves and criminals of these countries that wants to embedded themselves outside their countries.These Western countries are charitable to the poor nations,judging by what they are doing in africa,likewise they want to make sure that the third world countries too enjoy the benifit of peace,law and order and genuine prosperity for all by way of transparent democracy.They may go one step to prosicute wrong dowers that deliberately escape justice meet their day of recokning outside their countries.

  18. Lingam

    I am not a fan of Mahinda or any other SL Politicians. But, stopping the traffic for the president or a VIP is quite usual even in the United States. For president, when Air Force One is to land at a civilian airport, all air traffic is stopped. If air traffic is closed, you can imagine what would be done to road-traffic. (Usually AF 1 lands at military airports!). In Sri Lanka, there is still threat for the president, ministers and other leaders, and in that situation, stopping traffic is perfectly acceptable. Remember the attempt on Gotabaya’s life.. if the traffic is stopped that would have happened. We lost several VIPs, including Militray intel officers because thier cars had to stop for traffic…

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