Thewarapperuma Factor Explained – there is a time and place for it
Palitha Thewrapperuma is a populist MP and now Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife.
There was a long time clamor amongst his supporters for him to obtain a ministerial post, as he was known to be sympathetic to the issues of the rural people, having a kinship of understanding for their needs. He was considered to be a down to earth person, who sometimes faulted the system that prevented the ordinary person from receiving his just dues from the state.
With this background, it was most unfortunate, instead of being made the deputy in the Samurdhi Ministry, where he will look into the cases of genuine need that have not had what was due to them, he was appointed to Wildlife.
It must be said, that it is quite clear that he has not understood, that contrary to his inclination, he has to take the side of the Wildlife and their protectors, the people working in the DWC, against his natural base, the rural villagers who are effectively living a hand to mouth existence, many as farmers, and others as day laborers. It has already come to a head, where he has taken the side of the people who have been attacked by wild animals, and their crops destroyed, against the Wild Animals, and as they cannot defend themselves, it is their keepers, the DWC who have incurred his wrath.
So I had said earlier that the poacher has turned game keeper, and his poaching instincts are still intact, taking their side against the gamekeepers who is duty bound from his position to defend.
This was starkly illustrated a few days ago, and the video clip from Hiru TV has gone viral, where he is seen to be reprimanding employees of the DWC, and then also talking to the DG of the DWC, Sooriyabandara on the phone castigating certain actions taken by his staff, threatening to sack them.
In cases of HEC, and trespassing into DWC land, cutting trees, there is a lot of protocol to be followed, as you cannot mete out summary justice, until the facts are known. The local villagers assumptions are usually wrong, and they are either bound to lie in defence of their actions, or they are ignorant of the law. So when a man confronts accusations of wrongdoing against the DWC, the deputy minister, true to form, forgetting what his present role is takes the populist side that he is used to from his prior practice and castigates the DWC.
He cannot help himself in his showmanship, with the video clip showing him travelling in a motorbike with no security to tackle a problem. It is all good TV viewing and entertainment but gives the wrong picture to the viewer. He achieves his objective that is to gain popularity of the masses, but he is simply not doing his job properly. He is the kind of person who cannot be told off either, as he will in turn accuse his accuser, on matters that are completely irrelevant but are manna to the gallery and the News hounds with their cameras waiting for the opportunity to find fault with anything this Government is doing. They even have a government minister providing them with the ammunition to shoot their own! Its all bizarre and theater if not for the fact that it is plain wrong.
It is not my time and place to tell someone like him that he is harming people he should be protecting. If he cannot understand that, then he really should resign and hand over his portfolio to someone else. The problem is that in the past 3 years 5 ministers and at least the same number of deputies have been playing musical chairs in that ministry, with the resulting lack of direction, consistency of policy and hiatus it has caused.
The Wildlife, without a vote, and a voice are suffering silence unable to make a case for their plight, seeing these poor excuses for humans making their life hell, and they are saying to themselves, we have been here long before humans, why are they out to get us?
Populist politics as it is in Sri Lanka, is all about giving the villager what he thinks he wants, whether it is right or wrong, as that is the only way to assure oneself of their vote. So even if the cause for the protest is wrong, they don’t take the side of the Wildlife. They are left high and dry, and their needs are incompatible with a poorly educated population that demands, their piece of the action with no regard for the environment as they don’t have time for such niceties in their struggle for daily survival.
We must understand that every stream and rive has the banks as reservations that cannot be built on, or be destroyed to protect the waterway, and the animal life that live along that along with the plant species are the property of the reservation, and so of the state, where the people have no rights, unless special permission is given to destroy within those areas.
With much farmland adjoining reservation land, as mine too does in Hingurakgoda, I am only too painfully aware of the problems from wildlife and the balancing act and battle we have to protect our crops, so it is not a theoretical exercise for me either. It is much patient listening, talking and ensuring peoples’ concerns are heard and the law explained to them. With more land allocated near such places, this problem is growing and not receding either.
We are destroying our biodiversity due to this process, and no one seems to care