During his 13 trail-blazing days as deputy media minister in late April, Mervyn Silva, had shared with us his ideas about how to support journalists. It included sacrificing his conjugal commitments so that he could be on call 24/7 to assist reporters in distress and even cook for us on somewhat of a work-for-food kind of exchange. Alas, 13 days were hardly enough to introduce the sweeping reforms he had in mind for journalism.
But he was already an MP – having won in April with a huge number of preferential votes – and was then made deputy minister of highways.
Innovative ideas of governance continue to pour out of his head. Including the arbitrary shutting of bars and liquor vends in his constituency, Kelaniya, as they were, well, diluting cultural and religious ethics; some unreformed media reports said the reason could have actually been less noble, like awarding new contracts and renewing old ones etc.
Then last week, Silva, introduced his most compelling and out-of-the box-idea on improving governance yet. Yet, as many great ideas go, it was a simple one.
While leading an anti-dengue programme, Silva tied up a public official to an unsuspecting mango tree, chastised him in front of his colleagues and many cameras, and threatened few more with the same treatment for protesting. The official’s sin was cardinal – he had failed to attend the programme. It was a Sunday and his son, reports said, was unwell.
The visual of the humiliated man, his limp body tied to a tree, face blurred and head down was splashed across newspapers and television channels. Trade unions reacted angrily, civil society wrote angry letters and a senior minister was learnt to have petitioned the powerful. (The dengue fever incidentally is spreading unabated.)
But the government remained gagged; not a word of admonition for more than a week. It was only late on Tuesday evening that Silva was removed from his ministerial post and also sacked from the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
Silva, in the meantime, had produced a letter saying the official had actually thanked him for the punishment. But since it happened, I have profusely thanked my stars that Silva was not the media minister. Who would want to be tied to a tree for missing his press conference?