Power does peculiar things to people. It corrupts some, it makes others insufferably arrogant.
Of course, there many examples in Sri Lanka that justify this observation. To that long list, one can now add the name of Ranjan Ramanayake.
Ramanayake initially made a name for himself as an actor. With his cherubic good looks, he was often the hero and almost never the villain. Then, as some actors are wont to do, he took to politics.
Ramanayake’s political party has always been the United National Party. Having entered politics less than a decade ago, he has spent most of that time in the opposition.
In the opposition, he was everyone’s hero. He was outspoken and he fought for the causes he believed in. He was instrumental in highlighting the plight of Sri Lankan workers in the Middle East and was responsible for ‘saving’ some of them from the clutches of cruel employers and repatriating them.
While many may have disagreed with Ramanayake, few doubted his sincerity or his commitment. He also made much of the fact that he was incorruptible, and no one doubted that too. He was the epitome of the honest, humble politician.
That was until last week. Last week, Ramanayake took the law into his own hands. He went to ‘investigate’ an issue related to sand mining at Divulapitiya in the Gampaha district. He then telephoned the Divisional Secretary, a lady, and proceeded to accuse her of being hand in glove with corrupt politicians.
He then insulted her in unsavoury language and concluded by bestowing a curse on her saying that she should be struck down by lightning.
Since then, Ramanayake has maintained that the official is corrupt and steadfastly refused to apologise, even though officers of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) are now up in arms and threatening to take this matter further.
Ramanayake has clearly got his wires crossed here. We do not wish to sit in judgment on the official concerned. Nor can Ramanayake do so. If he believes that she is guilty of corruption, there is mechanism to deal with that: he should complain to the Bribery Commission which can then deal with it.
Ramanayake maybe a deputy minister but that does not also give him the right to pick up his phone and shout orders to various government officials. Indeed, this practice has been the bane of this country because politicians believe that the moment they become a Member of Parliament, they are all powerful. Obviously, this disease has afflicted Ramanayake too.
Then, Ramanayake uses foul language on a lady officer and curses her public, fully aware that his activities are being recorded by the cameras around him.
The only excuse that Ramanayake could have offered is that he acted on the spur of the moment and couldn’t contain emotions. But since the incident, Ramanayake has maintained that he committed no wrong and that he wouldn’t therefore apologise. Ah, none are so blind as those who do not wish to see!
Meanwhile, a Divisional Secretary has been bullied by a deputy minister and has had her reputation tarnished in the media. The man who did so hasn’t had any repercussions whatsoever until now.
We do not know how this saga will end. However, we are not holding our breath. In this government, we have seen another deputy minister, Palitha Thevarapperuma, run amok several times. He still remains a deputy minister without any consequences. Perhaps Ramanayake will enjoy similar luxuries.
This type of boorish, uncouth behaviour was commonplace during the previous regime. There was a culture of impunity surrounding ruling party politicians. That is why the people spoke loud and clear and sent them packing.
They would have hoped that the new government they ushered in, which promised ‘yahapaalanaya’ would be different. But then, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same!