Not Cricket, Old Boy
What an awe-inspiring name, since 1787 synonymous with cricket - the
gentleman's sport. Picture W.G. Grace striding in to bat, to the sound
of well-bred applause from the august members of the Marylebone Cricket
Club. How little it has changed today!
at the MMC's Committee. The Rt. Hon. John Major PC, is a member. The Rt.
Hon. Lord Alexander of Weedon, QC, is chairman. The President is no less
a personage than Sir Tim Rice, poet royal, winner of three Oscars,
Cameron Mackintosh, professor of fine arts, author of Jesus Christ
Superstar, Evita and countless other libretti. Visit Lords on a fixture
date and you stand a good chance of rubbing shoulders with His Grace the
Duke of Norfolk or chewing a delectable tomato and cucumber sandwich
(garnished with cress, naturally) with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
world of Lords. Nothing could be more dignified, so respectable. And
into that world for the second time (this time by the front door), last
June 10 strode Thilanga Sumathipala, heir to a bookmaking empire
extending to the remotest hamlets of rural Sri Lanka. It is no sin to be
a bookmaker's son, and it is certainly no sin to be the son of the All
Ceylon Buddhist Congress President. Neither is it a sin to have schooled
at Nalanda, a very respectable seat of learning. Not quite the same as
King's College Cambridge perhaps, where Lord Alexander of Weedon, QC
(who also happens to be Chairman, Royal Shakespeare Company and
Chancellor, Exeter University) learned to his benefit that "A"
is for apple, but quite good enough for any son of the soil of Mother
rags-to-race-sheets saga of Thilanga Sumathipala is the stuff of which
blockbuster novels are made. From humble origins has he risen to heady
eminence as Chairman, Sri Lanka Telecom and the Board of Control for
Cricket now to be renamed Sri Lanka Cricket, giving our worthy chairman
an irresistible opportunity to best Sir Tim with a catchy rhyme of his
own. No Oscars for that though, for young Mr. Sumathipala is in hot
water - very hot water. Indeed, next time he pops his head into Lords,
he may well find His Grace the Duke otherwise engaged and the Archbishop
of Canterbury regretting his inability to be among those present. For,
our Thilanga has fallen on hard times.
revelations emanating from Welikada Gaol these days are indeed
startling. Allegations supported by reams of damning evidence are being
made that Sumathipala, in his pre-cucumber-sandwich days, was given to
awarding contracts to have people expunged, including the Editor of this
newspaper. An accomplice to some of these murders and attempted murders
has already made a full confession before a magistrate. Another is
already in remand. And the jailbirds are singing merry songs of murder
and mayhem, leading right to the front door of the Sumathipala
not a politician, Sumathipala is a creature of politics. He loves
hobbing and nobbing with ministers, perhaps even more so than with those
nibs at Lords. After all, a minister is not an archbishop: you don't
have to break into a sweat wondering whether to call the chap Your
Grace, Your Lordship or Your Eminence. You merely call him machang. And
it is not just the ministers who fawn on you when you are a media mogul
as Sumathipala is; other media moguls do, too.
media moguls do not shrug their shoulders and pass on when one of their
number finds himself in the mulligatawny, as Sumathipala has done. They
do not cross the street at his approach. They lend aid. And the proof of
their mettle will be tested as the trail draws ever closer. The
revelations made in court are no longer a secret. What the public is now
watching and waiting to see is how the media institutions of Sri Lanka
handle this conundrum. Will they turn the other way and pretend they saw
nothing, or will they tell it as it is? We are not ourselves given to
those flutters on the turf, but if were, we'd say the odds are seven to
three against. Bets closed gentlemen!
more interesting than the media's attitude to this poser will be that of
the government. After all, the Prime Minister himself handpicked
Sumathipala to be chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom. It has been widely
stated that Sumathipala intends to stand for the ICC presidency and that
the government will back his candidature. In this milieu, what chance is
there of an impartial inquiry into the allegations that have been made,
implicating Sumathipala in several murders and murder attempts?
have said in these very pages before, that the rich and the powerful
never see justice in this land. Everyone knows who killed Joel Pera in
cold blood. After all, there were half-a-dozen eye-witnesses. Yet,
barely had Pera's body gone cold before we boldly predicted that no one
would ever be convicted of that dastardly crime. No one was. The rich
and the well-connected can kill, and kill with impunity, in sunny Sri
is being made out that the allegations against Sumathipala are an attack
on the government. Hardly so. After all, he is not a member of the
government: he is a mere beneficiary of government patronage, a hanger
on, a catcher. Besides, the crimes with which he has been associated
took place during the last government, allegedly at the behest of
powerful ministers of that administration.
remains then to be seen how justice will flow from the UNF government.
Up to now, despite the high office Sumathipala holds, the police have
conducted a fair and professional inquiry. Clearly, the confession that
was made in court was not the result of coercion. The magistrate
repeatedly warned the witness that he would be incriminating himself,
urging him to consider well before proceeding. He asked if the witness
was being coerced or bribed to make the confession (ironically, the
witness said that he had been offered bribes not to).
the police case is ready, the onus will be on the Attorney General and
the Solicitor General to decide whether it merits an indictment. For
that to happen, Sumathipala will have to be questioned. It is a matter
of murder, and there is no room to dilly-dally. The eyes of the people
will be on the law officers and the judiciary to see whether all we will
have is another Pera-like fiasco. We do not for one moment hold that
Sumathipala is guilty of the allegations made against him. All we are
saying is give justice a chance.
must be blind to wealth, power and affluence. We have a long way to go
to reach this ethereal goal, but at some point Sri Lanka must take the
first stride in that journey. Life is not cheap, and no man has the
prerogative to decide who lives and who dies. We have passed that point.
The Sri Lanka we want for our children is not one jammed full of
murderers. We deserve a better deal, and we each have a duty to create
that better deal. The coming weeks will tell who it is who has opted to
shoulder that responsibility, and who it is who has chosen to subvert
was it again, that they garnish the tomato-and-cucumber sandwiches at