You cannot make a good man bad


I refer to the letter written by Ravana appearing on this column on 31 st August 2011 under the title "You CAN keep a good man down !’’.  Ravana was inspired to write that after having attended a fairwell party of a much respected university lecturer.

 I quote from Ravana’s letter under reference, "This man was ignored or sidelined for his ‘different’ way of thinking. He worried his superiors because he never hesitated to query an innocuous decision. If he had ever taken over higher responsibility, his predecessors would have been exposed for their ineptitude and their inefficiency. He would never kowtow to politicians. Compromise or even a fractional lowering of his standards was always out of the question".Un quote.

I now wish to draw attention to a book called MY PERSONAL ARK, first published in 1969, written by Major Aubrey Weinman, O.B.E., who was the surerintendant of the Dehiwela Zooligical gardens in the 1950s. After four years in a Japanese prison camp in Malaya he was invited  in 1947 to start work at the Dehiwela Zoo. Prior to that he held the same position and was recalled to the Army during the second World war. The Zoo had deteriorated badly during the war and he had to now start all over again which was an uphill task, given the support he received from the beaurocrats of the day. I now quote from MY PERSONAL ARK, an incident which elaborates the red tape a Good man has to face in serving the public.

I quote from page 8/9 of the book, " The story of the perimeter wall of the Zoo is an interesting example of the kind of difficulty I was frequently up against. The Zoo grounds are surrounded by houses and the problem of decease carried by dogs cats and other creatures was one that worried me considerably. The official estimate to build a wall by orthodox means was prohibitive but I remembered the Israelites of old,(how they built bricks). I had no straw so I decided to use elephant dung instead. Three parts gravel, one part sand and one part elephant dung and water was my formula. This was trampelled into a crumbly mixture, put into steel boxes and stamped down with a wooden mallet. After half an hour it was turned out of the mould and left to dry slowly. In two or three days the bricks were quite hard, but if it rained during this period it would have been disastrous. Once the bricks were laid on a foundation  of stones and plastered over with cement, the wall proved to be as good as one made with any other material.  It has stood up to the elements for over ten years and if properly maintained it will be good for many more years.

I had in this manner constructed seven hundred yards of wall when suddenly I was asked by the Auditor General to show cause why I should not be dismissed, or otherwise dealt with for having built a wall without Parliamenraty sanction. I replied that I was not aware that Parliamentary sanction was  necessary and that in most countries an officer who displayed such ingenuity, would at least be thanked, if not given a tangible reward. All I could do in the circumstances, I said, was to offer to have the wall pulled down. I was reported to the home minister, Sir Oliver Gunatileke, and I explained to him what I had done. He laughed heartily remarking : " Your facetiousness has no doubt annoyed the Auditor General and you should be careful not to irritate him unnecessarily in future. Leave it to me"

Some days later I got a letter from the Audit Department asking me to give particulars of the cost of the wall. I could not resist the temptaion of pulling the Auditor General’s leg by asking  for the  rates for elephant dung, stating that I was not an engineer and it was difficult for me to work out the cost without clerical assistance. I was sent for again by the home minister and asked how soon I could produce the information.I replied, "Three weeks, if I can have clerical assistance"   I was given a clerk and  between the two of us we produced purely hypothetical figures which were accepted without query - and the matter was dropped." end of quote.

Bureaucracy defends the STATUS QUO long past the time when the QUO has lost it’s STATUS. This is a serious indictment on those in authority who  serve the public. Therefore our task is not to fix the blame on our predecessors, but to fix the course for the future.

Rohan N. Fernando    

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