By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Comparing the Yahapalana administration with the Rajapaksa one and concluding that the present administration is not yet as bad as the former but is on the wrong road or moving too slowly on the right one, is either moronic or knavish, not only because there was nothing of the magnitude of the bond scam and gigantic divestitures of strategic national assets under the previous regime, but also because Mahinda Rajapaksa did something positive of huge historic and human import which no one else did and from which all the positives of today were made possible—he won the Thirty Years War and then gave the economy the highest growth rate in Asia outside of China.
What was negative about him cannot be compared with what is negative about the present without contrasting the small pluses of the current crew with the much larger pluses of the previous one, and totaling them up.
It can be said of Mahinda Rajapaksa that his achievements dwarfed his errors; his positives outweighed his negatives. Can the same be said of the present administration? Not even the UNP believes that the electorate perceives its achievements as outstripping its failures. If it did so, would the Hon. PM be seeking to postpone elections?
The weekly evidence of the unprecedentedly dependent, servile character of the Yahapalana administration came in the form of a report in the prestigious Hindu by its smart, Colombo based correspondent Meera Srinivasan. Captioned ‘India keen to run Sri Lanka airport’, it says:
“India has expressed interest to operate Sri Lanka’s second international airport situated in Mattala, about 40 km from the southern town of Hambantota, where China has majority stake in a strategic port it built. The Sri Lankan government earlier this week cleared Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva’s request for a committee to study the Indian government’s proposal. India proposes to “operate, manage, maintain and develop” the airport through a joint venture, holding 70% of the equity for 40 years…” (The Hindu, August 12th 2017)
Not even during the period of the IPKF did our huge neighbor, which has Tamil Nadu as a significant shareholder, get to “run” a Sri Lankan airport deep in the interior of the country, in the Sinhala heartland. Nor did any Ceylonese/Sri Lankan government ever think of giving India a 70% share for 40 years in any venture as strategic as an airport.
This is in addition to the two stories in the sister paper of the Daily Mirror, which say that the Survey Department which is over a century old, is to be virtually handed over to a US firm named Trimble so as to work on an island-wide Land Registry, while the country’s labor laws are to be revised under the guidance and with the financial assistance of the USAID.
If this doesn’t add up to a project of re-colonization or neo-colonization, then what does? Why does the government do this? One reason is obviously money. I don’t mean money as in the money needed to run the country, because Mahinda Rajapaksa ran it with a higher rate of growth in wartime, and a much higher one in peacetime, without auctioning the family silver and the store! I mean money as in massive payoffs.
Surely the problem of financial viability should be solved by giving first preference and a larger role to Sri Lankan capitalists than to foreign ones? Algeria for instance has a constitutional redline that rules out anything above a 49% share for foreign capital in any enterprise or property whatsoever in that country, leave alone something as strategic as a port or airport!
This government has no vision of real economic growth and development. That is not the fault of the UNP proper, it is the fault of those who occupy the UNP’s penthouse. The man who best knows the philosophy of development of the UNP has been exiled as Ambassador— Karunasena Kodituwakku, groomed by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayaka as a future leader of the party.
There is another reason which makes the UNP dominated government behave the way it does. The current leaders of the UNP belong ideologically to that stratum which has a long history on this island—that of collaborators who see no future for themselves apart from service to and as beneficiaries of their Western patrons. They are the island’s equivalent of the type that Malcolm X so indelibly caricatured as “House Niggers”. They do not see any role for this island except as strategic real estate for the declining Western empire, its allies and its competitors to own or rent.
The Hon. PM and his ideological followers in the corporate community and the upper bureaucracy are striving to recreate what they see as the golden age of Ceylon—not its true Golden Age of the first decade after Independence, but precisely the pre-Independence period of colonial servitude and limited autonomy; the Donoughmore period. The paradigm is of a throwback to conformist cosmopolitan colonial modernity.
The government is cracking up in both senses of the term: it is fissuring as well as going gaga in a politically suicidal way.
The UNP in government is attacking the state. Within the state it is attacking precisely the most credible and admired platform, process and personnel, namely the Presidential Commission into the bond-scam and the independent minded officials of the Attorney-General’s Department.
The UNP is also attacking one of its own, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who is far less conspicuous a dissident than Opposition parliamentarian R. Premadasa was with his Puravesi Peramuna (‘Citizens’ Front’) faction in the early 1970s and Prime Minister Premadasa was in the 1980s with regard to the Indo-Lanka Accord and the IPKF. The patriotic populist dissident Premadasa turned out to be the UNP’s savior in 1988-89. By attacking Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, the UNP is busily perforating the only populist lifeboat it has when the ship hits the rocks.
The UNP is also attacking its SLFP partner in the coalition government at a time when it needs the latter’s support for the Constitution making process, and the SLFP is itself reconsidering its continued presence in the coalition.
The UNP has failed to obtain the support of its formal ally the SLFP, and its closest comrade-in-arms the TNA, in the venture to introduce a 20th amendment and postpone Provincial Council elections.
Furthermore, the UNP’s political behavior has antagonized the JVP which has pivoted (at least partially) against the Government, in and out of Parliament.
If this isn’t a crack up of the Jan 8th 2015 Yahapalana coalition, the beginning of the disintegration of the ‘unity’ government, and a display of ‘soft anarchy’, what is? And if this isn’t a collective psychological crack-up of the UNP, manifesting a pronounced propensity for political suicide, what is?
During the UNP-led 7 party coalition government of 1965-1970 officially titled the “National Government” but colloquially dubbed the “Hath Havula”, Esmond Wickremesinghe was the key advisor and supporter of Minister of State JR Jayewardene’s attempt to dominate the economic policy agenda, outflanking and overshadowing from the Right, the more moderate, liberal, pro-agriculture Prime Minister Dudley Senanayaka. Today, with the drive to abolish the Executive Presidency and project Hon. PM as the country’s de facto leader or future leader while celebrating his 40 years in politics (a celebration in Parliament from which the President absented himself), the UNP is perceived by SLFP veterans as attempting the same ‘Esmondian’ putsch in relation to President Sirisena. There is a gaping ‘trust deficit’.