How to solve a problem? Appoint a presidential commission

| by Gamini Weerakoon

( January 23, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The usual reaction when a vehicle crashes on the road injuring and even killing others is: Hang the driver. This seems to be the response to the accident that took place on Thursday morning when a school van crashed into and oncoming bus injuring 9 children in the vehicle, some of them seriously.

Certainly the 21-year-old driver cannot be exculpated because of his youth. But there are others to blame as well.
Power without responsibility
Who issued a driving licence to this driver? Does he know the Highway Code? Is not the Motor Traffic Department officials issuing licences traditionally considered to be corrupt?
Has not this corruption been tolerated since Independence or even before resulting in the slaughter of thousands of innocents on the road for decades? And would not this slaughter continue unimpeded? The knee-jerk reaction would be: Set up a Commission of Inquiry, preferably a Presidential commission to investigate.
Motor Traffic Department and roads
Others may say not only a commission for the Motor Traffic Department but there are others equally guilty. What about the state of the roads? Yes, some of the roads have improved remarkably well with laying of rubber carpets and white line markings but have not these roads turned out to be race tracks with no pavements, surfacedrainage, traffic lights and no traffic policemen—at least competent traffic policemen to halt speeding maniacs. Narrow streets in Colombo’s suburbs are now quite impressive but are also virtual death traps.
One example is the Nawala-Nugegoda road. Take a walk on it or even a drive and you will get the feeling of waving your hand to death. How many pedestrians and motorists have died on this highway in the past year?
So will other factors affecting transport come under fire: An Increasing number of vehicles which are in excess to space available on roads; state of vehicles, railway crossings etc. What to do? The knee-jerk reaction will once again the call: Appoint a commission to cover the whole gamut of transport.
Sure-cure for all ills
In other countries too governments resort to appointments of committees/ commissions to resolve seemingly insoluble problems but we seem to make a fetish out of it. Take for example attempts to resolve the so called ethnic problem. We now have a report of the Mangala Munasinghe Select committee report, the All Party Conference report under Tissa Vitharane produced after years of deliberations, Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and another Parliamentary Select Committee to be appointed. But no solution has been forthcoming.
There is the fracas over the GCE-AL results which in the good old pre-computer days of pen and pencil came out smoothly to the satisfaction of all. Now it appears that the Examinations Department of the Education Ministry needs to the educated in marking the answer scripts. A Committee was appointed almost immediately to douse the rising flames but does not appear to have succeeded. Now Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe is calling for the appointment of a parliamentary select committee to probe the issue. So far, after intensive investigations it has been found out that the culprit was a poor computer operator who is alleged to have messed up entering the results. The obvious question is: Does not anyone check on the work done by a computer operator? Or is it that in this Orwellian Age when machines take control over man, computer results should be considered infallible?
Enter evil spirits
Another mystery that needs to be resolved is the mass scale entry of ‘evil spirits’ into the private lives of individuals as well as those in the public realm.
Remember the ‘Grease Yakaas’ who drove women nuts— and even men— stretching from the Jaffna Peninsula to the deep south? They appeared almost immediately after long years of Emergency rule lapsed and disappeared virtually into the thin air within weeks. Women complained that the ‘Grease Yakaas dressed in black and daubed in Grease (hence the name) attempted to grab them in the dark in their back gardens. But these Yakaas proved to be elusive and not one could apprehended. In Jaffna some irate residents had chased such a ‘spirit’ into a military compound from where he had vanished.
There were many theories about these Yakaas. An anthropologist explained that the original people of Sri Lanka were Yakaas—even Vijaya the brigand from Bengal married a Yaksha queen, Kuveni, whom history had recorded had magical powers of making people appear and disappear. Vijaya became the first Sinhala king but Yakaas remained in the island. They periodically make their appearances and disappearances it is said. Political analysts however held a different view. These Grease Yakaas were really gentlemen in khaki who wanted to prove to the people that despite Emergency Law being lifted the people still needed protection from evil spirits. This phenomenon surely needs the attention of a presidential commission.
Dons and Yakaas
On Tuesday we witnessed a strange spectacle down Nawala Road near the Open University where university dons—the crème de la crème of our intellectuals—(kiri panni as they say in the native tongue) walking behind a group of Yakaas as seen in Thovilays (devil dancing ceremonies). The Yakaas had hideously long beards and weird hairdos, were bare bodied and dressed in leaves! The university teachers were demonstrating against the controversial Private University Bill. Was this pure satiric street drama to show that they were attempting to ward off ‘evil spirits’ who were being surreptitiously introduced into campuses by the authorities or did they believe that real evil spirits ‘Perethayaas’ had entered the halls of learning?
Cricket and Yakkas
A few weeks ago the new president of Sri Lanka cricket Upali Dharmadasa had some kind of ceremony to ward off evil spirits from the headquarters of Sri Lanka Cricket at Maitland Place. As a businessman, he knew the effects of evil spirits, he had told the media. For quite sometime there have been evil spirits in flesh and blood in Sri Lanka cricket who had cleaned up the board’s ‘kitty’ but what is more worrying is that the cricketing spirit of the players has been drastically affected by one spirit or the other. The recent miserable performances against foreign teams needs no elucidation. Devil dancers, witch doctors and quack doctors who had earlier been called in to help our players has been of no avail. And something has to be done. Would the Sri Lankan panacea for all illnesses: appointing of a presidential commission help?
Camels, horses and commissions
Commissions/ Committees rarely help resolve problems in any country. They can only slow down the process and takes time. That is perhaps why a camel has been defined as a horse designed by a committee. Commissions/Committees do serve a useful purpose: They proliferate more and more committees and commissions.
In Sri Lanka all presidential commissions have one basic flaw—-regarding credibility. All of them comprise of individuals who are appointed directly or indirectly by one individual.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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