Regular readers of “The Island” newspaper over the twenty year period from the 1980’s will remember the almost weekly columns written by Dr. Mervyn D. De Silva, who was in those years a Deputy Director of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, followed by being appointed as the Director of the Ministry of Plan Implementation, and later becoming a Member of Parliament through the National List. His most profuse and provocative period was during the tenures of four Presidents from Mr. J. R. Jayawardene to Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. His writings covered a wide range of public and national concerns and took their cue from what the controversial American journalist I.F. Stone believed was the purpose of good journalism – “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
Dr. De Silva’s critically analytical articles were about the immediate happenings in the country at the time they were written. As a well-placed “insider”, he wrote about economic policies and the shortcomings and failures in their planning, implementation, management and monitoring. He wrote critically insightful pieces about the development strategies of governments irrespective of whether they were ideologically from the right or the left. He spoke about the weaknesses in governance, exposed corruption and was critical of failures in law and order and human rights which led to societal crises of varying seriousness.
The majority of these articles (nearly 83 out of about 100, including three creative pieces – two poems and an “imaginary speech” by a politician) have now been collected and published in a book from by the Tulana Research Centre for Encounter and Dialogue in Gonawala, Kelaniya, under their Tulana Jubilee Publications umbrella. With an Introduction by the author and a Foreword by Fr. Aloysius Pieris s.j., the founder/director of the Tulana Centre, the book is divided into six chapters. Chapter One has the collection of Dr. De Silva’s writings on “Poverty and Economic Injustice”. Chapter Two is devoted to his scathing critiques of those champions of neo-liberalism the IMF, World Bank, GATT and the WTO. The chapter on “Planning Issues – Political, Economic and Social” are well-informed pieces written by an insider. In chapter 4 he critiques a range of “Socio-Political Issues” and in chapter 5 he boldly exposes the mythic interconnections between “Façade Democracy and Political Parties”.
At the heart of all his writings is Dr. De Silva’s unwavering humanist “rationalism” – his constant cry for economic and social equity, for fairness in justice, for honesty and integrity in governance, and for the protection of the rights of all human beings specially the poor and the marginalized. Reading these articles today, one is struck by their continuing relevance in the questions they pose, the problems they expose and the remedies proposed. These are indeed “Prophetic Indictments”.
Noel Ranjith is from Gampaha