The name Nimal Bopage didn’t ring a bell a few weeks ago. However, this individual suddenly became the focus of attention when, as the newly appointed Secretary of the Media Ministry, he declared that the media should not identify a particular political group as the ‘Joint Opposition’.
Bopage has had his fifteen minutes of fame. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the most of it. Now, he has been shown the door. The government hopes that his removal as ministry secretary will bring the curtain down on a saga that was much ado about nothing, really.
A few questions do remain, though. When Bopage made his infamous declaration, was he acting on his own accord? Surely a neophyte ministry secretary would not make a statement with such far-reaching implications without the blessings of his political masters? Or, did he? He says he did.
Bopage’s Minister, Gayantha Karunathilaka, was quick to disclaim any contribution. What Bopage said was his ‘personal opinion’ and was not the government’s position, he said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe did not also endorse the statement. In-fact, he is understood to have summoned Bopage and given him a tongue lashing.
Bopage’s statement did raise a few issues. It highlighted the issue of delegation of authority from the political powers that be to bureaucrats. We may be on the way to good governance, but make no mistake, the bureaucracy does not run the country; politicians do. We need to be grateful to Bopage for clarifying that, even if inadvertently.
Then there is the issue of media freedom. When Bopage said what he said, the media was strident in its protests. How dare you tell us how we should be doing our job by instructing us what not to call a political group, they asked. If what Bopage wanted was to limit the exposure of the Joint Opposition in the media, what he achieved was exactly the opposite: even ‘middle of the road’ media outlets which are usually impartial stood firmly with the Joint Opposition on this issue.
Finally, there is the real issue itself: is the Joint Opposition a separate political entity of its own? This is where Bopage’s timing was really off. His comments came during the lead up to May Day when the Joint Opposition was attempting to create an impression that it commanded more numbers than the mainstream Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). That is why his comments riled them even more.
May Day is now over and we are still searching for answers. The decision the SLFP Central Committee takes regarding the dissidents who attended the Joint Opposition May Day rally at Kirulapone will determine the future directions of both the SLFP and the Joint Opposition.
We are not privy to who, if any, sanctioned Bopage’s comments. However, by calling for his removal, the government has changed gears and got in to damage control mode. Even if it did so in hindsight, and regardless of which faction of the government masterminded that, it is a step in the right direction unless, of course, Bopage is now being made a scapegoat for comments he was ordered to utter. If it is the latter, however, Bopage could always speak up and he hasn’t.
If Bopage’s comments were bad governance and his removal is good governance, so be it. But there is way to go. Take the case of Kamal Indika, another name that does not readily ring a bell.
Kamal Indika was recently appointed SLFP organiser for Hiriyala in the Kurunegala district by President Maithripala Sirisena. This is the same person who allegedly engineered an attack on artistes of the ‘Aluth Parapura’ at Kumbukgete when they were campaigning for candidate Maithripala Sirisena during the presidential election. Indika was then firmly on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side.
As far as ethics are concerned, this is far worse a transgression of good governance than the few words that Bopage uttered. So, don’t fool yourselves: good governance is not alive and kicking. In fact, it may be gasping for breath.