The best apothegmatic description of the peculiar mindset of President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s ministerial potentates comes from one of our intelligent readers. According to him, some of the present government ministers are:
Dr. Mervyn Silva
Dr. Bandula Gunawardana Silva
Dr. Gamini Lokuge Silva
Dr. Rohitha Bogollagama de Silva
In his short missive, which speaks volumes for arrogance and callousness of the thick-skinned ministerial fraternity, our witty reader has asked who the next Dr. Silva would be. And Minister Piyasiri Wijenayaka sorry, Dr. Piyasiri Wijenayaka Silva has come forward and joined the Dr. Silva Brigade of the UPFA. Their motto seems to be: `Masses are asses.` Isn`t it also the catchphrase of the government?
Minister Wijenayaka proved on Monday that the first thing a person loses upon being appointed a minister is his head! Having summoned a press conference to explain some allegations against him levelled by a UNP MP, and played his message track replete with tripe, cant and gobbledygook, he refused to field questions fired by the media. His audacious contention was that he had called the media only to get his message across and not to be questioned. He, in his wisdom, seems to have equated journalism to stenography! If so, he could have delivered a written message to the media through a messenger without calling a press conference, inviting media personnel and giving them short shrift.
Last week, UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera told Parliament that Minister Wijenayaka was using an expensive car which cost taxpayers over Rs. 260,000 a month as rental in addition a fuel bill of nearly 110,000. In these columns, we pointed out that while the government was squandering public funds on vehicles for politicians, some hospitals lacked resources including lifesaving equipment. By refusing to permit the media to raise questions which would certainly have been rather embarrassing to him, Wijenayaka only proved he had more to hide than reveal as regards his ministerial expenses etc.
The media may be far from perfect but it has a right to information. So do people who elect and maintain politicians. It is not possible for people to confront politicians with questions as and when issues crop up they have to depend on the media for that purpose whatever the biases and prejudices that members of the Fourth Estate may be harbouring.
That Wijenayaka was given his ministry not on merit is only too well known. He got it as the government feared he might break ranks out of frustration. The same goes for many other ministers sponging off the public. He asked for a ministry so that he could enjoy life, having wasted his productive years dreaming a utopian dream. There is no reason why he should be wary of owning up to that fact which is known to one and all.
No TV or radio station will go off the air or no newspaper will fold up because Minister Wijenayaka refuses to answer questions journalists pose to him. But, in so doing, he, as minister of cultural affairs, promotes the prevailing culture of non-accountability which militates against the new political culture the National Freedom Front (NFF), of which he is a founder member, has vowed to evolve.
NFF leader and former JVP firebrand Wimal Weerawansa says in his controversial book on the JVP, Neththa Venuvata Aththa (Truth instead of falsehood) that he tried his best to persuade the JVP to rejoin the UPFA government after President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s election in 2005 but he was overruled by a group of dyed-in-the-wool politburo members determined to smoke him out. The question is whether it was to avail themselves of an opportunity to lead a luxury life at public expense that Wimal and his close allies left the JVP and joined the government.
Wijenayaka may look another Mervyn in the making but he is still a minor irritant rather than a threat. However, now that he has demonstrated his Vermin trait, he should be made to realise that he cannot make short shrift of the media and get away with it. Unless he is prepared to field questions at his media briefings, there is no point in media personnel attending them he must be asked to send them a recorded statement.