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Sack The Political Thug!

The year 2007 ended for the country in a tragicomedy. Tragic it was because the scenes at the Rupavahini studios on Thursday involving a minister of state accompanied by his 'bodyguard' - a double murder suspect released on bail - was a disgrace to any self-respecting nation, particularly one which boasts of an ancient civilisation and culture. The comedy was that the pint-sized comedian and his bodyguard were served their just desserts however unpalatable it may have been by the staff of the government's main propaganda institution which has the most trusted personnel of the ruling party.

While violence in any form cannot be condoned other than when acting in self defence, the treatment meted out to Silva and his goons it has to be borne in mind was a reflection of the pent up fury of a people totally frustrated at the brutal rule of a regime gone off the rails. That President Mahinda Rajapakse has time and again failed to take any action against Silva other than offer the usual words of condemnation after such incidents only goes to highlight the fact that the rot begins at the top.

Minister Mervyn Silva has been starring in such disgraceful incidents in public quite regularly - parliament, newspaper offices, court house premises, night clubs and public demonstrations which should not have been tolerated by any head of the political party and certainly not by a head of state who has appointed him as a member of parliament on the national list and a minister. But he has been able to get away from all that unscathed obviously because of political patronage extended from the apex of political power.

There lies the root cause of the problem. And what does the likes of Karu Jayasuriya and his band of 17 merry men who joined the government promising good governance have to say? Nothing because they are humbugs to a man who only crossed the divide to share the spoils of office at the public's expense

The SLFP General Secretary on the very day of the incident issued a statement condemning the actions of Mervyn Silva as is the usual practice when such incidents occur. But is that the end of the matter like similar incidents that happened earlier? The President as the head of the SLFP and Head of State should have taken immediate disciplinary action and sacked the political blackguard but rest assured nothing of the sort will happen and this political thug will live to fight another day under full state patronage with only those Rupavahini employees called upon to pay for their sin of soiling the clothes of Silva. Contrast this case then with that of SriLankan Airlines CEO Peter Hill who was unceremoniously evicted from the country without so much as an inquiry for allegedly refusing to provide 18 business class seats to a presidential party on a flight that was full and you there have the ethos of this regime.

Any ordinary individual who enters a government office and is responsible for an attack on a public official would have been arrested and produced in courts the next day. But not Mervyn Silva who had the fortune of the police riot squad being sent to his rescue by the President.. He is reported to have taken refuge in the Merchant's Ward of the National Hospital, the refuge of most errant politicians. Instead the thug who accompanied Silva identified as Kudu Nuwan was remanded with the state conveniently ignoring the fact he was only one party to that unlawful assembly doing the bidding of his Minister. There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that the Minister tried to stop the assault on the SLRC news director by his thug or even order him out of the building after the assault. On the contrary he was party to the whole incident making him in the very least an accomplice. No one obviously told Silva of the legal principle that they also serve those who stand and wait.

If there is an independent Inspector General of Police such a course of action would necessarily follow. But the President's unwillingness to appoint a Constitutional Council which has been entrusted the responsibility of making appointments to an independent police force has prevented that happening. Now the President as the head of all armed forces including the police, together with his brother Gotabaya, the Defence Secretary should take action on this incident of which the whole nation is watching in anticipation but that is like asking a dog to give up his bone and we for one will not risk holding our breath.

It is common knowledge that in recent years criminals have been hired by politicians to do their dirty work including murder or set presses on fire when they do not like the message communicated. The Soththi Upalis, Chandi Mallis, Wambottas, Nawala Nihals and the like have been used by politicians of most parties. Thus the people, who cross the path of these politicians with access to criminals, run grave risks. It results in the breakdown of law and order. This is terrorism in another form.

The people should rise and demand from President Mahinda Rajapakse to take action against Mervyn Silva; after all he is maintained by the public purse. Mere apologies and condemnations will not do.

Media organisations should go beyond parroting out slogans from written pieces of paper at Fort Railway Station and demand punitive action. The media should take collective action in blacking out Mervyn Silva's name and his activities for a considerable period. They should even consider expressing their protest by ceasing to publish newspapers or broadcast on radio and TV for at least a day. Cosmetic and superficial protests will not work.

Those like Silva and Wimal Weerawansa of the JVP are media creations and have been blown up beyond their importance by media reporters who find some of the provocative statements made 'good copy.' We have all been guilty of this at some point. They revel in such publicity. Like fish in water these politicians live on publicity. They will perish deprived of publicity like fish when taken out of water. Editors, news directors and proprietors of the media should insist on definite standards of reportage like what the Sri Lanka press was a few decades earlier.

Today, some politicians are under the impression that all their speeches have to be reported the next day. That was perhaps why Mervyn Silva rushed into the Rupavahini premises when the pearls of wisdom he dropped at Matara were not reported and set upon the news director. This is like shooting the pianist when he does not play your tune or you do not like his tunes!

Journalists have been victims of terrorism for quite a while.  They are now being terrorised by politicians and their goons. It's time for collective action. The words of Martin Niemoller, a German U Boat commander of World War 1, turned pastor and who  later fell foul of the Nazis are relevant in this respect particularly for the state media: 'When the Nazis came for Communists I remained silent, because I was not a Communist; When they locked up Social Democrats, I remained silent because I was not a Social Democrat; When they came for trade unionists, I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist. When they came for Jews, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew and when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.'

Thursday's incident is also an eye-opener to those who speak of a new media culture and a code of ethics for journalists. It is ironic that at the entrance to Rupavahini is a large hoarding calling for the promotion of a new media culture. This media culture has to be fostered not only by journalists but media bosses and state commissars. It is time to call for a code of ethics for politicians and hold them accountable for their actions. They must be made to observe the laws of the land and their special privileges should be done away with.

With most of the executive powers now concentrated in the office of the executive president, it is he who should be held responsible for the state of lawlessness in the country. If the President with his powers cracks down on his ministers, MPs, service chiefs and police, making them obey the laws of the land much could be done. The ministers in turn can come down on officials and this could filter down to the level of the office peon. But if the President violates such laws wittingly or unwittingly and encourages ministers to do like wise, the result will be chaos and anarchy as it is happening now.

The antics of Mervyn Silva indicate the state of governance of the country. President Rajapakse and his ruling junta of brothers should realise that governing a country goes much beyond waging war or fighting terrorism. The people who are undergoing great privation caused by rising prices of essential goods do not want any more problems like Silva. The people have to be protected from the people's representatives. The rot must stop now. President Rajapakse can do it by sacking Mervyn Silva immediately for starters or is that asking for too much from a man whose political bread and butter is patronage?

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