People and Events
Story time!!

by Nan
I wrote about corruption last week and detailed some incidents of corruption and the boss person winding himsef/herself in red tape and throttling other employees and the organisation itself. I was shocked at the extent of such lethal action by those in power. People contacted me and related occurrences of stranding red tape and another worse habit, the pulling down of those who wish to do some solid work by those who do not want anyone to shine forth as a doer, an achiever.

Thus my strong feeling that the work ethos in many an institution, whether government, a statutory body or an NGO, especially an NGO, is far from truly honest, recognising employees not for their efficiency and ability, but judging them on various other criteria such as personal loyalty to the Head, political colour, stooging, etc., etc.

Out, you old person; in, you stooge!

Is it only the older person that appreciates the older person in a work place? This I find is another modern trend in the work ethos of the young and not so young. They tend to overlook all the older person’s experimental learning, his/her dedication to work, loyalty, etc., and the fact that at that age full concentration on the job in hand is possible since emotions are well under control or non est; family ties loosened to a large extent — the kids grown up and gone and the relationship with the spouse on a more even keel.

Another trait in offices these days is the inability of those employed and the employer to divorce the professional from the personal. A very good worker could be marginalised because of some personal character trait of his which does not impinge at all on his performance, but is disliked by the boss. Thus the habit seen now of employees cringing/paying pooja, wiggling and being coy just to please the Boss Boy. If the boss is a woman then the way to success in many a case is that sneaky old habit of carrying tales.

Of course there are bosses and employers who are excellent, not politicised and judging their employees only on the criteria of efficiency and loyalty to the organisation. But these are fast becoming an extinct breed and if one is thus, then the majority of employees cannot understand them.

The truly honest of days gone by

I remember, as the older ones among us will, how very honest and totally unpoliticised the head of a government department was, say 40 to 50 years ago. I’ve related this story before, maybe in this column too, but I repeat it again to prove my point. DROs were appointed in the 1940s to pull the carpet under the Ratemahattayas who were, let’s admit it, often exploiters of the land and people under them. My brother was appointed a DRO. He made it clear that even April New Year gifts of kavun and cake were not welcome. Soon enough the division and its headmen realised that here was a man who was totally incorruptible and in his seat to do work and help the disadvantaged.

His official residence was, in one district, an old resthouse. Hence the office was an appen-dage to the house, the kitchens and storerooms attached, yet totally separate from the living quarters. As a very young kid I took an eraser from his office when doing my holiday homework, and forgot to return it. It really was a case of forgetting, and not conveniently forgetting. He found this little piece of rubber missing and asked me whether I had taken it. I said I borrowed it. He went red in the face and this usually kind father figure gave me the telling off of my life. I felt worse than a worm. That incident was very salutary. And thus my comparing the government servant of then to some present ones, and sighing bitterly and deeply in sympathy for the country.

Discussing this, one person said that the CCS being replaced by the CAS was the beginning of the corruption and degradation of the public service, soon to be copied by others. True, when one remembers members of the Ceylon Civil Service and chats to a retired one. He, this retired CCS, judging by his related anecdotes, was efficient with the word in bold upper case letters; was fearless and never stooged anyone nor showed favour to any subordinate. He’s spoken back to prime ministers and the more enlightened of them often accepted they were wrong and gave him a free hand. Never did they mix the professional with the personal - ticked him off today and invited him for a hopper breakfast or dinner the next. Never did they see political colouration in him.

We are heartened by the new prime minister recalling officers back to employment who were trusted and capable of delivering the goods: from advisors and chief secretaries to the housekeeper of Temple Trees.

Men in wells, men on the moon

Two stories I often relate (which I am sure you know) bear repetition here to demonstrate professional envy and resultant inborn or forced laziness of the Sri Lankan, which really means more the Sinhalese.

There were deep but dry wells in some mysterious place, where, even more mysteriously people of various nations were stuck. How they got there or who confined them does not come into the story. Suffice it to say that people of various countries were in wells, country-wise. Soon enough blond heads appeared mixed with brown and a black head or two. These wells were the ones in which British and American persons were confined. They soon enough escaped, having probably had enough practice during WW I and II where it was your bounden duty if caught and made a POW, to immediately plot and plan your escape. Ingenuity was also inborn in these people, and encouraged almost from infancy to take the initiative and get going.

Peeping into wells, the ‘managers’ found people helping each other up. Some gave their backs for others to stand on, and once this person had a strong foothold, he bent down and hauled the one who lent him a back to stand on, to get higher up the well wall.

Very soon the Chinese appeared and so also the Indians. The Japanese and others followed and, after a while, the Pakistanis too were out of their well. The designer of the wells and ‘managers’ wondered why the slight boned, agile looking Sri Lankans were not appearing. After all they boasted a culture of more than 2500 years! They peeped into the Sri Lankan well. Behold! As one got a foothold and moved a step or two up the well wall, he was pulled down in double quick time. Very soon there was a battle going on down below. Escape was completely forgotten, with the in-fighting raging. The pastime and pleasure of these three ancient Sri Lankan races!

The second story has to do with a moon landing disaster. The ill-fated astronauts were American, Indian and Sri Lankan. The moon vehicle, ejected from the orbiting space satellite, nose dived and injured parts of its front. The American immediately looked into the damaged moon lander, and started collecting bits and pieces of scattered parts, getting ready to repair it. The Indian took out a pencil and note pad and proceeded to compute whatever one computes when one is stranded on the moon with a damaged landing and taking off craft — maybe complicated equations. After a while they looked for the Sri Lankan, surmising that being too keen to get the vehicle repaired, he may put himself in danger. They searched here, there and everywhere but he was not to be seen. Suddenly they espied him on the dark edge of the moon terrain, relaxed and resting.

"Get Up you b... s....! What the hell do you think you are doing? Aren’t you keen to get the hell out of here and back to Earth, to your country and family?

"Yes, yes, I am."

"Then why in Gawd’s name aren’t you doing something about getting this damn contraption back in shape?"

Proudly the Sri Lankan, the inheritor of a civilization of more than 2500 years, yawned and said: "We never work on full moon days. All full moon poya days are holidays in Sri Lanka."

My ending to the tale is not that they all returned to Earth and lived happily ever after. The exasperated worker and thinker just pushed the Testing one, enjoying the full moon, right out into space. The other two returned. I’ll bet my last 100 rups that this man was canonised as a martyr in his paradisial country!