Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka: Meet the real Media Minister

By Frederica Jansz - Mervyn Silva is the quintessential coward. Your typical classroom bully. A thug, patronising with ease members of the underworld, drug dealers and gold smugglers.

Of average intellect, the thuggish Silva — a product of Mahinda Rajapaksa — was quick to assess that his inbred qualities of crass, crude displays of verbose abuse was in fact a step on the ladder to political notoriety, which Mervyn Silva in similar vein to every politician in this country embraces.

Any publicity is good publicity and it is by that adage that Mervyn functions. Which is why a man who polled a mere 2,500 votes in the general election of 2004 this time polled a massive 150,000 preferential votes – Silva had perfected the art of publicity and the local media bit the bait he threw each time. Silva was further given an added bonus after having been asked and appearing weekly on a local reality television show as a judge! Where he performs like a circus clown – but the ratings of this particular show are at an all time high – not because of the gracious Ms. Rosy Senanayake who is also on the panel of judges but because Mervyn Silva – sits there holding television audiences spellbound with his antics.

Any publicity is good publicity and it is by that adage that Mervyn functions. Which is why a man who polled a mere 2,500 votes in the general election of 2004 this time polled a massive 150,000 preferential votes – Silva had perfected the art of publicity and the local media bit the bait he threw each time. Silva was further given an added bonus after having been asked and appearing weekly on a local reality television show as a judge! Where he performs like a circus clown – but the ratings of this particular show are at an all time high – not because of the gracious Ms. Rosy Senanayake who is also on the panel of judges but because Mervyn Silva – sits there holding television audiences spellbound with his antics.

And that in a nutshell is the essence that is Mervyn Silva. The man if taken on — as he was in the fiasco enacted at the state owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation will run with his tail between his legs.

But, the foul-mouthed Silva has proved invaluable to political leaders in a country where politics hits mud everyday – all the time – acting the court jester, Mervyn provides valuable, violent, verbose service to control those who attempt to overstep the President or anyone in the bad books of the President.

Silva’s allegiance to Mahinda Rajapaksa will however be thrown out the window the day Rajapaksa is no longer President of Sri Lanka — that too is Mervyn’s style.
Silva entered politics under the patronage of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Hambantota District. Later he left the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and joined the United National Party (UNP). Silva at one time was a strong critic of Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga. He slandered her repeatedly. However, after Mrs. Kumaratunga became president in 1994, Mervyn Silva got back the membership of SLFP asking forgiveness from her in public.

There was even a time when Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe used Mervyn Silva to slander Hambantota District MP Sajith Premadasa. As one wag told this newspaper – Right now, if Mervyn were to approach Wickremesinghe for a crossover “Ranil would grab him with both hands.” The man is a vital commodity for Sri Lanka’s political leaders.

In this issue, we detail Silva’s colourful background, both political and personal. The man would be a laugh if not that he can be deadly. Closely associated with members of the underworld, Mervyn Silva has proved on more than one occasion he is no joke.
Silva’s ludicrous claims of lineage to Sinhala kings is all but a figment of his puerile imagination. President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself will be able to graphically detail the beginnings of Mervyn Silva.

For, it is Rajapaksa who opened a window of opportunity for Silva, who, at the time of the 1970 general election was the president of the youth wing of the SLFP in Beliatta. This was the time Mahinda Rajapaksa himself entered parliament for the first time having won the Beliatta seat.

Silva hailed from a poor village family. Certainly this is nothing to be ashamed of. Except that Silva is now professing he inherited ‘family wealth’ from his father.
Mervyn Silva worked closely with Rajapaksa during the 1970 election campaign. After his victory, Rajapaksa felt obliged to give Silva a job as the latter was unemployed at the time.

Thus, he was employed at Sathosa as a ‘badu kiranna.’ A man who measured vegetables, sugar, rice, dhal, etc. on a weighing scale at the Sathosa Jathika Pola, which was visited by almost anybody and everybody in those days.

This is how Mervyn Silva came to Colombo. During that period of the ration book, most items were sold only through CWE outlets. Everything was rationed. From red chillies to sugar to milk powder, rice, etc.

Even the wives of government ministers were compelled to do their grocery shopping at the CWE. This way, not only wives of government ministers but even those from the so-called ‘upper classes’ visited the Sathosa Jathika Pola to do their marketing.

Hot favourite

Mervyn was gracious to all, bowing and scraping, and on many occasions giving them in excess of the rationed amount. Sometimes he would have some items of grocery even delivered to ladies whose social standing was high. Thus, Mervyn was a hot favourite and so began his climb up the social and political ladder.

Subsequently, Silva contested the post of president, Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya at Sathosa and won. He then used his influence as union president to secure ‘office space’ for himself at the main head office of the CWE, which at the time was situated at Union Place.

From there, Mervyn transformed himself into a mini dynamo. If there was any item needed out of any Sathosa outlet that could not be easily secured, Silva was the man to contact.

Gradually, while building up his influence within the SLFP, Mervyn worked his way into the confidence of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Not just with her, but Mervyn became a close cohort of the entire Bandaranaike family. The Bandaranaikes, from Sirimavo, to Chandrika and then Anura on subsequent occasions used Mervyn as their point man to insult each other. And Silva willingly obliged that fractious family.

Each time he returned from his village situated in the deep south at Beliatta he would carry the best curd and honey for Sirimavo Bandaranaike. His fidelity to her continued even during the tumultuous political period of 1982 when the SLFP split with Hector Kobbekaduwa on one side, Anura Bandaranaike, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Senanayake on another and Sirimavo Bandaranaike cracking the whip in the middle.


And such was Mervyn’s influence with her that he even discussed with her the candidature of his mentor, Mahinda Rajapaksa to the extent that Rajapaksa was overheard bitterly recounting to some, “The …… that I brought to Colombo is today deciding on my nomination.”

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was an ardent believer in astrology, numerology, charms, and all things spiritual and unknown. Like a hawk, Silva moved in for the kill. At the drop of a hat, or a single word in this instance from Sirimavo Bandaranaike, he would summon astrologers of varying breeds to Rosmead Place. Thovils, poojas and horoscope readings became a regular feature.

One night, a huge thovil had been organised by Silva at the request of Sirimavo Bandaranaike at Tintagel. During the course of the proceedings, former Deputy Defence Minister, Lakshman Jayakody had walked in and spied a man clad in priest like clothing officiating at the ceremony.

As Jayakody watched, from time to time this man would don a human skull and spreading an ash like substance would profess to dispel from the midst of Rosmead Place all evil eye and presence. Mervyn Silva was ‘Master of Ceremonies.’

Some days later, Jayakody was in Galle attending a court case and at around mid day the bench adjourned for lunch. Jayakody also wandered off, ate something and returned to the court house. On his return he spied a crowd gathered around a tree. Mildly curious, he strolled over and saw a man wearing dirty yellow robes, sporting a long beard matted with dirt, sitting beneath the tree chanting mantras, professing to work lucky charms. The man’s physical condition was filthy. Yet, Jayakody was struck by his features and was convinced he had seen the man someplace else.

Suddenly it struck him. This was the same man who had been conducting the thovil at Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s residence. Later, when Jayakody happened to meet Mervyn, he chided him saying, “You are a hell of a fellow. When I went to Galle courts I saw the same man you brought to Mrs. B’s professing to be a top class astrologer sitting beneath a tree, poorly dressed and very dirty, collecting 25 and 50 cents like a beggar.”

To this Mervyn had replied, “Aiyooo… Don’t say anything to Mrs. B. What can I do? The way these Bandaranaikes want astrologers, I cannot produce. So I picked up this bu…., gave him a good bath, dipped some pu nula in saffron water and took him to Mrs. B.”

And it is this conman Jayakody had witnessed Sirimavo Bandaranaike herself worshipping in respect.

Hand to mouth existence

Silva during this period lived a hand to mouth existence. Each time he was short of cash he would convince Sirimavo Bandaranaike to hold another thovil or pooja claiming bad luck was in the air and thus pick up half or more of the cash doled out to host these events.

Thus, he was badly in need of cash one day and so he arrived at her Rosmead Place residence with some ash wrapped in a yellow cloth, which he surreptitiously flung into a patch of bushes in the garden as he scurried through.

He then went inside and told her that some of the astrologers he frequented had said that an evil charm had been cast on Mrs B. by members of the UNP by way of human ash concealed in a yellow cloth hidden in some bushes in the garden.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was duly convinced and no sooner she had Rosmead Place to herself with the exception of a few house servants, she searched the area of garden detailed by Mervyn and indeed found a yellow cloth which carried what they believed was human ash.

She immediately summoned Silva and urgently requested him to organise a thovil pronto to dispel from her midst the presence of evil. This Silva gladly did, picking up a couple of thousands as expense money.

Such was her trust in the man she would summon him at all times all the way from Hambantota to come and get her horoscope read immediately. And Mervyn never refused.

But despite this relationship, Silva had a fall-out with the great dame and joined forces with Anura Bandaranaike who at the time was persona non grata with his own family.

Despite having bared his buttocks to Anura (May his good soul rest in peace) some time back, all was forgiven as Mervyn fitted in with ease into Anura’s lavish lifestyle of eternal parties, filled with booze and song.

‘Fixing’ a court hearing

And in the same manner, Mervyn professed to ‘fix’ a court hearing that appeared to be going against Anura Bandaranaike. The UNP was in power at the time and a case against Bandaranaike had been filed by R. Premadasa.

Bandaranaike was extremely upset over this case and he conveyed his misgivings to Mervyn. The latter of course had a solution. He promised Bandaranaike an excellent astrologer. Before doing so, Mervyn did his homework and found that the chances of Bandaranaike getting an acquittal were high.

On the day the judgment was due, Mervyn produced a man claiming he was a top notch astrologer, who then chanted mantras while seated on a chair with Bandaranaike seated at his feet on a mat on the floor. Water was splattered on Bandaranaike and the man pronounced that Anura would be acquitted that day.

Anura was indeed acquitted from the case. Bandaranaike was over the moon and expressed undying loyalty to the ‘astrologer,’ plying him with good food and money. Much of the cash of course was redirected to Mervyn.

Thereafter, one day, Anura and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were traveling together from Hambantota when a man standing on the wayside suddenly waved furiously at the car, having recognised it to be Anura’s. Bandaranaike rolled down his window and energetically waved back.

Puzzled at this very overt display of affection Rajapaksa asked Anura, “Do you know that man?” to which Anura replied, “Yes of course. He is a great astrologer. He is the man who predicted I would be acquitted from my case.”

Rajapaksa was stupefied saying, “How can that bu…. have done that? He runs a bicycle repair shop at Hambantota and I know him well.”

But Anura would have none of it, continuing to argue with Rajapaksa that it could not be. It was then that he told Rajapaksa how the man had been introduced to him via Mervyn Silva and with that Rajapaksa, knowing Silva only too well, did not have to put two and two together to determine what exactly had happened.

This is how Silva has survived in the game of politics. Later, when Sirimavo Bandaranaike attempted to sack Anura from the party and cancel his membership, it is Silva together with Anura Bandaranaike’s Coordinating Secretary, Lal Perera, who organised a massive protest campaign outside the gates of Tintagel at Rosmead Place, blocking also Chandrika Kumaratunga’s entrance.

Both mother and daughter were due to attend the central committee meeting of the SLFP which was to be held at the opposition leader’s house that day, then situated next to Shravasti at Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7. At the time Anuruddha Ratwatte was in occupation having been given the house to reside in by Sirimavo Bandaranaike as he had little money on him then and no place else to live.

Protest campaign

The boisterous crowd tried to prevent Sirimavo Bandaranaike from leaving her residence to attend the central committee meeting, which was to take a final decision on Anura’s membership.

Screaming slogans in raw Sinhala filth, the crowd did manage to prevent Sirimavo Bandaranaike from leaving her residence. Even the police did not use enough muscle to quell the disturbance as it was a UNP government then in power.

Mervyn Silva in fact laid himself at the wheel of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s vehicle when she did attempt to move out of her gates shouting they would have to run over his body in order to leave.

She gave up and went back in but Chandrika Kumaratunga managed to get out from the adjoining house where she lived during the time the crowd was concentrating on preventing her mother from leaving. They however stoned her car.

As a result she went to the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station and lodged an entry naming Mervyn Silva as the chief miscreant. Thus, Silva was summoned to the police station to make a statement.

He went and in graphic detail began claiming that Kumaratunga was “his keep” and in that context he had every right to stone her car, which he also said belonged to him. He told police the whole ugly incident had been “a family brawl.”

He then went onto describe his alleged sexual relations with Kumaratunga in such graphic detail, the policeman recording his statement stopped and refused to write anymore. But Silva insisted saying if they wanted a statement from him they had to record what he had to say in his defense.

Slandering Kumaratunga

A superior police officer was called by the desk sergeant but Silva was adamant and continued to slander Kumaratunga, describing even which sexual positions she preferred. The entire Cinnamon Gardens Police Station stood by and listened with mouths agape as Silva lied through his teeth to escape prosecution.

When the police informed Kumaratunga of the contents of Silva’s statement and what he had said, she merely told the cops to drop the charges.

At some stage during this period Silva established ties with Gamini Dissanayake. It was suspected in SLFP circles that Silva leaked party information to Dissanayake. Whatever the truth of this assumption may have been, Dissanayake did buy Silva a Pajero and also financed him from time to time.

In 1993, Silva together with Anura Bandaranaike crossed over to the ranks of the UNP. Later at the southern provincial council election he became close friends with former President, D. B. Wijetunge.

The latter was amused by Silva’s antics and for the short time that D.B. was President, Silva was a regular visitor to President’s House – more as a court jester than anything else. He however never resorted to the Sinhala filth which is commonplace with him, in D.B.’s presence.

As a result of this relationship, Wijetunge acceded to Silva’s request when he sought nomination. Silva won his seat in Hambantota in the 1994 general election and thus entered parliament.

In the run-up to the election, Silva character-assassinated Chandrika Kumaratunga describing even alleged birth marks on various parts of her body which he claimed to have seen as a result of an intimate relationship he shared with her.

Many at the time thought Kumaratunga would sue him for libel but she did not. His profanities continued in parliament too. So much so, much of what he said had to be expunged from the Hansard.

Meanwhile, Silva became a close cohort of the underworld. He embraced the likes of Nawala Nihal, Kudu Noor and Potta Naufer. It is Silva who personally drove to the airport to pick up Nawala Nihal when he returned from Italy and used his influence as a deputy minister to prevent the underworld thug from being arrested at the airport.

Drug Dealing

Kudu Noor in a statement he has made to police has named Mervyn Silva as a key figure in Sri Lanka’s drug ring, claiming Deputy Minister Silva would travel regularly to Bangkok and India using VIP channels to smuggle drugs and gold into the country. But the truth of the matter is Mervyn Silva never touched leave alone smuggle drugs or gold.

President Kumaratunga was forced to contend with the likes of Silva after he crossed back again from the UNP in the year 2000 when she was desperately in need of numbers to push through a new constitution.

It is Mervyn Silva who took Potta Naufer to meet then President Chandrika Kumaratunga. They met at her ancestral home at Horogolla Walawwa in Attanagalle where Naufer donated Rs. 10 million towards the President’s last election campaign. He also paid for 200 ’savans’ (bowls of biryani) to feed 1,200 PA supporters. Naufer later was found guilty of the murder of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya.

A police source confided that Silva is a weekly visitor to Shiyam, another underworld figure who is currently in Prison Hospital. Shiyam too has admitted to the fact in his police statement.

Silva meanwhile amassed a huge amount of wealth as a result of his deals. Currently he loans money at a monthly 6% interest rate and survives on the millions he accrues as a result.

Yet, Silva rarely has cash on his person. When he travels south various mudalalis pick up his food and accommodation bills.

Unable to control his son Malaka, he sent him to the United States for higher studies but the boy returned in a matter of months unable to survive without his bodyguards, guns, unlimited liquor, drugs and nightclubs.

By 2004 Mervyn had become so invaluable for Chandrika that she brought him into parliament from the National List.

In the General Election 2004, Mervyn Silva contested in Colombo District and ended up becoming the last in the list with less than 3000 votes from the entire district! He had however by that time convinced Kumaratunga to nominate his wife from the National List. Later, Mervyn entered parliament using this National List seat which had been allocated to his wife.

And it is as a result of Kumaratunga’s personal agenda in politics that this country today is saddled with the breed that is Mervyn Silva.

Added to which we now have Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, who is also intent on promoting the likes of Silva.

© The Sunday Leader

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