Triumph of professionalism
Susanthika Jayasinghe came home yesterday to a heroines welcome. There were many notables to greet the Olympic medalist. There were notable absentees as well. Susanthika took it all in her stride, unfazed.
She had advice for the womenfolk. There be many obstacles they will have to face in their endeavours like she did, but these obstacles should be overcome with determination, was her advice. She sported yellow ribbons on the request made by those who were working towards having a free and fair election. That could not have been to the disadvantage of the PA, UNP or the JVP, she said.
Susanthika should be looked upon as a symbol of courage, defiance and independence not only by womenfolk but also by people from all walks of life, particularly professionals. It is sad but true that over the years the great majority of Sri Lankans has become supine invertebrates, bowing and scraping before politicians who are more often than not uneducated ruffians who have manipulated themselves into power. In the case of Susanthika, she threw caution to the winds, took on the giants and those of lesser stature and was able to prove herself because of her athletic prowess. It was a triumph of professionalism over political chicanery and skulduggery.
Under the provisions of the countrys first constitution the Soulbury Constitution the public service, police, judicial services and armed services had in built constitutional rights against arbitrary action of politicians and their panjandrums. But the 1972 Constitution, in the name of the Sovereignty of the People, did away with these safeguards. Over the years, public servants became stooges and zombies.
There were a few notable exceptions. Sri Lankas distinguished ambassador the late Shirely Amerasinghe was an outstanding example. He was apparently not to the liking of the UNP High Command when they assumed office in 1977. Amerasinghe was at that time the Chairman of the United Nations all-important Law of the Sea Conference. When his term of office as ambassador elapsed the Sri Lanka government refused to nominate him even though the conference was in progress. But the diplomatic stature of the Sri Lanka ambassador was such that the United Nations appointed him while his own government refused to do so!
Recently we had a similar instance of another Sri Lankan diplomat Mr. Jayanatha Dhanapala being even mentioned for the Secretary Generals post of the United Nations. But our Foreign Ministry, for reasons of its own, did not take up the issue. And then there was the firm offer for Mr. Dhanapala as Chairman of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, which once again did not receive the backing of the government. But the reputation of the Sri Lankan diplomat was such that he was appointed to one of the key posts in the UN system, Under Secretary General for Disarmament, which he continues to hold.
These are three outstanding examples of Sri Lankans who achieved international repute on their own efforts and no thanks to the governments in power.
There are many other examples of sturdy individuals, particularly those bred in the traditions of an independent public service, who refused to be cowed down to the dictates of politicians. The tale is told of a doughty old Civil Servant V. L. Wirasinghe who was brought back from retirement by President Jayewardene. He refused to give in to tremendous political pressures and went home with grace and dignity.
Whether the provisions of the draft constitution that includes an independent public service commission, independent judicial service commission and an independent police commission comes into being is yet to be seen. But it is a good sign that the Supreme Court has not been hesitant in protecting the fundamental rights. And now private organisations are coming up for the purpose of safeguarding fundamental rights.
Last week it was reported that the Institute of Human Rights has launched a programme to provide free legal protection for public servants in order to maintain their independence at the forthcoming elections. The project is to be backed by leading lawyers and is to co- ordinate with the Sri Lanka Administrative Officers Association and the Confederation of Public Service Independent T0rade Unions.
T0nb his is an apolitical union and could prove to be a formidable organisation to protect the public servant who over the years became a lackey of politicians and realised that sycophancy was the way to success.
But laws by themselves do not go to make up sturdy independent personalities. It requires guts and the determination to succeed. Thats the stuff our Olympian has demonstrated.
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