Just Who Are They Kidding?
This keeping up with the Jones’ concept is not peculiarly Sri Lankan or British but to try and emulate all that is British is something that the people of Ceylon appear to have inherited. Ever since that is, the British arrived on these shores and ruled the entire island. That started in 1815. The Ceylonese have had quite a while to perfect the art. The Sri Lankans have this rather very special affinity to the British, though they will all say ‘English’ as opposed to ‘British’. Perhaps John Rankin the High Commissioner will have a programme to build awareness amongst the people of Her Majesty’s former colony, that there is a distinction between ‘English’ and ‘British’.
The Sri Lankan affinity with the British is not something you are likely to miss if you sneeze. For example The President of Sri Lanka Cricket – the ultimate purveyors of everything that is fine – will insist that gentlemen must wear a tie if watching the cricket from the President’s Box. So too is the requirement from the home of cricket, at Lords in London. The formality apparently is the attraction. It is almost like saying that if one is dressed up in a tie one is unlikely to be boisterous and voiceferous in their support of a Sangakkara six or a Duleep Mendis cut or a Ashantha De Mel in-swinger. At Lords the genteel English (British) would stay unruffled and perhaps applaud for a few seconds longer had Botham achieved a hat-trick or something similar. Their ties would definitely be in place and the maximum they may do is to give the player a standing ovation. Ah such wonderful genteelness!
And in more ways than one does Sri Lanka follow the British. Anyone remotely able to will prefer Oxford over Melbourne for their education; and even Yale or Harvard will play second fiddle to Oxford or Cambridge. Sri Lanka cricketers aspire to play for an English country albeit there are now some who prefer to play in the IPL purely for financial gain even at the expense of the traditional Test version of the game.
The High Commissioner representing Sri Lanka in London presents his credentials to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II replete in his ‘Top Hat and Tails’ and not in his nation’s traditional garb. The ‘Top and Tails’ garb is of course peculiarly and very specifically British. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was advised to talk openly and face any kind of questions not anywhere but at the Oxford Union debating society. When that failed he was advised to address a Commonwealth forum also in London. Much was made of his visit to London where he, like other invitees met – briefly – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Indeed the whole world and their dogs – except perhaps Robert Mugabe and family – are simply enamoured by Her Majesty.
Many Sri Lankan politicians including SWRD, Dr NM Perera and others have addressed the public at Speakers Corner in London’s Hyde Park but when these politicians come back home to the land of their ancestry all that they held aloft and more or less worshipped as ‘The Best’ is simply forgotten and almost cast aside. Once back home whilst aspiring for most things synonymous with England they appear to forget that here too the people would rather like it that way. After all when the British journalists from Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper were caught out in the infamous ‘telephone hacking’ scandal, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II did not get her goons to white van those journalists. Indeed one is not even sure that they have these vans – be they white or the much better looking British Racing Green. The only white vans that we know of in Britain is used by delivery companies and the other British phenomenon ‘the white van driver’ but that is entirely a separate story. When the LIBOR scandal broke, it did not matter that one of the largest banks was intrinsically involved: the law was the law and we all know what has happened since. Is it possible that we in Sri Lanka can even begin to imagine the head of any Sri Lankan bank being hauled before parliament and called to account and the matter resolved within a few weeks? Come to think of it whatever happened to all those monies that was lost most recently when Pramukha Bank went down the pan? Or what in reality has happened to all those who ‘saved money with Lalith Kothalawala’s Golden Key establishment? Was Kotalawala not released out on bail in the hope that the depositors would be given an ‘accelerated’ proposal for repayment? Significantly Cecile Kothalawala is not quite working as a check-out girl in a local Tesco in London – whilst on the run from the Sri Lankan authorities. Why is there such a significant and shocking silence – the turning of more than the Nelsonian Eye - when it comes to emulating the British in enforcing the law?
Our desire to emulate the British goes even further: our very laws emanate from the British, the cradle of democracy being in Britain. Like in Britain, Sri Lanka too has a Supreme Court. The similarity however is only superficial like most things in this country. The Supreme Court in Britain is appointed by a selection commission formed when a vacancy arises. In Sri Lanka appointments are made by the Executive President. In Britain, the Supreme Court is not the highest authority in that the British apply the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. In cases where precedent is relied on legal counsel routinely quote from British case history and so the aura of emulating the British is sustained and perpetuated for the foreseeable future.
However when the British act fast and with force as was seen in the ‘parliamentary expenses scandal’ and more recently in the ‘LIBOR fixing scandal’ those exemplary situations in the pursuance of democratic ideals and fair play are not emulated here in Sri Lanka.
The head of Barclays Bank was summoned before the House of Commons and was told in no uncertain terms that to fix the LIBOR rate was simply ‘reprehensible’. The head of Barclays Bank when he heard that the media had got hold of the story called no less a person than Britain’s leader of the Opposition. Ed Milliband did not speak with him immediately but did return the call to listen to what he had to say. Some hours later it was not surprising for anyone in Britain to hear the Leader of the Labour Party publicly call for Bob Diamond to go. In Britain it was the leader of the Opposition who set the political pace.
Is there anyone in this country who can say with any seriousness, that our Leader of the Opposition will ever set the pace? And before we hear cries of “it’s one-off” let me reassure you that it was the same Ed Milliband who cried the loudest when calling for the abandonment of the BSkyB bid and the resignation of Rebekah Brooks.
So while Sri Lankan politicos just love to aspire, emulate and gape in awe at British traditions and sense of fairplay, we must be fully conscious of the fact that in Sri Lanka our politicians by and large simply do not give their voters a ‘monkey’s chance’ of any consideration. In essence the voter, after voting their candidate in is short-changed in more ways than one.
In Britain when the going gets tough the tough get going: the politicians cast aside their political differences and work together for the greater benefit of the people.
It really is unclear as to when – if indeed ever – Sri Lanka’s politicians would band together in the common interest of the common man.