By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“His Most Extraordinary Majesty liked…the people of the court to multiply their belongings; he liked their accounts to grow and their purses to swell. I don’t remember His Magnanimous Highness’s ever demoting someone…because of corruption. Let him enjoy his corruption as long as he shows his loyalty! Thanks to his unequalled memory and also to constant reports our monarch knew exactly who had how much. But as long as his subjects behaved loyally, he kept this knowledge to himself and never made use of it. But if he sensed even the slightest shadow of disloyalty, he would immediately confiscate everything…. Thanks to that system of accountability, the King of Kings had everyone in his hand, and everyone knew it. ” – Ryszard Kapuścińsky (The Emperor)
An Urban Councillor goes on a family-vacation to a neighbouring country. At a restaurant he is befriended by a stranger who introduces himself as a businessman. Later, during a provincial election, this ‘strange-businessman-turned-friend’ visits the home of the Urban Councillor with a tale of woe. He had imported a consignment of plastic goods and tar. The container has been delayed at the port for two and a half months. Consequently he will have to pay an enormous amount of money as demurrage. Can his new-found politician friend, help mitigate this injustice by asking for a demurrage-waiver?
The Urban Councillor knows that friends must help each other. He belongs to the political party and the personal constituency of the country’s Prime Minister. He contacts the PM’s Coordinating Secretary. Perhaps they are friends; in any case as political allies, they are bound by the dominant ethos to scratch each other’s backs. The Coordinating Secretary writes a letter, on behalf of the PM, asking the relevant authorities to reduce the demurrage charge.
Then the container is discovered to contain 131 kg of heroin.
There is nothing unusual about drug-smuggling. What makes this story unique, and perhaps uniquely Sri Lankan, is the drug-smuggler’s belief that he can not only bring in his illegal cargo in safety but also obtain special treatment for it, if he has the right connections. The obvious question is, was he guided by experience? Has he done it before? Have other letters been written to South Asia Gate Terminal (Pvt.) Ltd or any other relevant entity by some politician seeking special treatment for this particular importer? Incidentally, how many letters are sent every month, by this or that politician, seeking privileges for friendly importers/exporters? How many of those requests are granted? How much money does the country lose every month in consequence?
An imported container will have a local receiver. Who was the supposed receiver of the heroin container in Sri Lanka? Is there any connection between that receiver and any politician? Have Pakistan and the Interpol been informed about this international drug smuggling racket?
How come no one has been arrested so far?[i] Is it because culpable inanity and criminal irresponsibility have become part of the dominant ethos of our government? Can Rajapaksa acolytes get away even with drug-smuggling, so long they remain servile?
In October 1989, President Premadasa appointed the Youth Commission to look into the root-causes of the Second JVP Insurgency[ii]. Its many recommendations included the de-politicisation of state-sector recruitment. In consequence, the Premadasa administration made public sector recruitment via competitive exams mandatory. In 2007, President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a circular reintroducing the disreputably dangerous practice of recruitment via political patronage. The SLFP-JVP alliance was still in place and at a Financial Consultative Committee meeting Piyasiri Wijenayake, on behalf of the JVP, protested against the circular. President Rajapaksa responded revealingly: “Piyasiri, there is no point in protesting against this…. We must help those who helped our party by giving them appointments. If both of you also have lists, give them to me and I will see that they are appointed”[iii].
The Local Councillor and the PM’s Coordinating Secretary were following in the Presidential footsteps when they intervened to obtain special treatment to a crony. The regime’s policy is to take care of its own – be it relations, party members or human rights violators – irrespective of the cost to the people and the country.
If media reports are accurate, helping kith/kin seems to have been the motive of Lakshman Hulugalle when he allegedly ordered the lightening transfer of almost the entirety of the police’s Organised Crimes Investigative Unit (23 officers and constables)[iv].
Mr. Hulugalle is a trusted aide of the Rajapaksa Brothers. His importance can be gleaned by the many positions he holds; he may have lost the plum job of Director General, Media Centre for National Security, but he continues to be the Director General of the NGO Secretariat and Deputy Chairman of the National Livestock Development Board. When a book with his life story was launched in January 2013 at the Kingsbury (Lakshman: Ohu Thama Mawbimata Yuthukam Itu Kaleya – Lakshman: He performed his duties by the nation), Basil and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (together with the three service commanders) graced the occasion[v].
Again there are many unanswered questions, questions which reveal much about how Sri Lanka is ruled. If the reports about Mr. Hulugalle’s abuse of power are true – the sudden and backdated dissolving of the MCNS indicates that there is some fire behind this puff of smoke – how come he continues to hold two very important positions? Is this the first time he used his extremely important position/connections for private gain? Have there been other instances of him using his powerful positions/connections to punish personal-enemies or save personal-friends? Shouldn’t there be a parliamentary committee to go into these matters? Shouldn’t the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence be summoned before this committee?
At Mr. Hulugalle’s book launch, the special guest lecture was delivered by JRP Suriyapperuma. Mr. Suriyapperuma is not just a national list MP. He is also the premier organic theoretician of the Rajapaksa project of Familial Rule and Dynastic Succession. In 2010, the ITN organised Jaya Jayawe, an evenings of songs praising President Rajapaksa[vi]. At this function, attended by the President and all his siblings, Mr. Suriyappermua gave the sole guest lecture.
‘Jaya Jayawe’ promoted the anti-democratic concept of a leader who is superior to the people, infallible and divinely-anointed, a leader who cannot be opposed without committing the Sin of treason. Mr. Suriyapperuma correctly identified Jaya Jayawe (with its reactionary message) as a symbol of the ‘New Rajapaksa Civilisation’. It is this same Mr. Suriyapperuma who used the racial slur ‘kalla’ on President Obama, in a recent parliamentary diatribe[vii]. Taken together with the denigrating manner in which the JHU/BBS publicly refers to the minorities, the Rajapaksa ideologue’s outburst reveals the racism visceral to Rajapaksa thinking and thus Rajapaksa governance. (If a time-machine can take him to Apartheid South Africa or even to the Southern American states of the Jim Crow-era, Mr. Suriyapperuma will discover how much of a ‘sudda’ he actually is!)
But nothing in this glorious Republic of Absurdistan is as absurd is the spectacle of we, the people, clinging to the anti-factual belief that the Rajapaksas are truly committed to the Country, Nation and Religion and will lead us to the Promised Land of Universal Development.
[iii] Lakbima News – 9.9.2007
[vi] One song expressed pride in having a king such as Mihindu. Another rejoiced that he united the nation’s heart and gave the nation a tomorrow and assured that the ‘nation is forever with you’. ‘You are the country, you are tomorrow… you are us…. Mihindu’ said yet another song. Another hailed the President as ‘the Lion in the Lion Flag’, and as ‘Our Time, Our Legacy, Our Future, Our Solution, Our Father, Our Comfort, Our Happiness, Our Light…..’ The President was called the ‘Father of the Nation’ and the ‘Wonder of the World and the Universe’, ‘High King’ and ‘Divine Gift’; he was compared to a ‘Golden Sword’ which defends the nation, and a ‘Golden Thread which unites sundered hearts’. The populace was repeatedly exhorted to give thanks (say ‘sadhu’) because ‘we got a king’. An ‘ethnically integrated’ song hailed the President as the Sun and the Moon, in Sinhala and Tamil (Hiru and Sandu to the South; Thinakaran and Chandiran to the North). ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa is our king…. King Rajapaksa’s name will be written in history in letters of gold…. We owe King Rajapaksa,’ sang a little boy, barely older than a toddler, lispingly. The final song referred to Rajapaksas’ mother as ‘Our Mother’ (ape amma), in an unconscious echo of the North Korean practice of referring to Kim Il Sung’s mother as the ‘Mother of the Nation’.
*Photo courtesy Matt Wade