30 September, 2020

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Ah! Now You Are Talking

By Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya

It was somewhere mid last year I was having dinner with a former World Bank senior official where he started humiliating me and my journalist colleagues in a friendly tone saying that we were not performing our duty as demanded by the society. The government was lying even in its official statistics but the fourth pillar of democracy that should highlight these misdoings of the regime in the larger interest of the public is keeping silent, he accused.

I have to be a patient listener, nothing else I could do. But at the end of his thundering argument, I educated him on a basic principle of what we normally teach our journalism students when we train them on safety – ‘No Story Worth Your Life.’ This is the norm we are adhering now, I told my friend. I think he was satisfied with my response.

But his argument had a strong basis. “The Central Bank is lying with its official data. Do you know Sri Lanka lost half-a-million people in 2012, according to the Central Bank Report?” I was shocked to hear this claim. Even the highest disaster tsunami killed only 45,000 people. How come half a million people get disappeared in one year? “Check and see, this is how your Central Bank raises the GDP through manipulated data,” he argued. “They (the government) can lie to the people, but not to us. We carefully observe and analyze every single move of governance,” he further said.

On the very next day, along with some students of journalism at Sri Jayawardenepura University, we went through the Central Bank Reports for five consecutive years and this is what we found out (please the box). We discussed about investigative journalism based on this finding but I strongly advised them not to perform it in public at that particular period of time, as I feared for their lives. Again the same principle – No Story Worth Your Life.

I have to admit the fact that this argument is still open to any clarification and explanation from the Central Bank. The public of this country deserves a clear understanding as to how Sri Lanka lost more than 500,000 of its people in a single year, contrary to the usual trend of annual increase of population, or have we read it wrong? As it clarified the details of the recent bond issue utilizing all possible technical details, also we need to know how what happened to our population in 2012? One could claim that this could have happened following the National Population Survey in 2011, but still it requires a better explanation. However, we would be happy to learn.

RKAlso I am pretty sure that my World Bank friend would be having his biggest laugh when reading this piece saying “Ah! Now you are talking, but you were silent those days.” But that is the bitter truth and reality my friend. I am alive today to tell this story, at least. If one dared to unearth such corruption, he or she may not be ‘killed’ but would have faced a ‘road accident’ and the body would be found inside a totally burnt car. The police will vouch for the ‘road accident’ and close the case within 24 hours. And I doubt whether the successive regime of good governance would take any action against those corrupt police officials who would ‘close’ the case within a few hours. The focus will be on the politicians involved in the incident, but not those errant police officials as well who came in front of media and justified the ‘lie.’

I still remember how a top cop of Colombo behaved in Dehiwala police station when our friend and colleague Keith Noyahr, the Defence Correspondent of The Nation was abducted in May 2008. The top cop was repeatedly telling us, “Don’t worry, he will come back” and he was perfectly correct at the end of the day. Keith walked home like a dead body after several hours of severe beatings and intimidation. Such was the conduct of the guardians of law and order.

 Nisha Desai Biswal

Nisha Desai Biswal

These isolated but significant events should be read carefully in the context of the upcoming Geneva UNHRC report and the developments that followed the recent visit of Nisha Biswal, the US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia. Trust, credibility, accountability and transparency are the key words of this entire game.

How come a government that loses its own credibility in the eyes of international community could fight for its own legitimacy and acceptance? And how could one mislead the international community assuming they are fools or being dumb or blind? And if the practice of lying went up to the level of independent institutions such as the Central Bank, then where should we stand in the global credibility index?

We lost credibility in all four main sectors of governance for the past ten years. Powers of the Executive was extensively misused, entertained high level corruption and nepotism; legislator and its affiliated institutions were extensively politicized and mismanaged, and Parliament was totally neglected while using it for the sole benefit and survival of the Executive; judicial independence was curtailed to the maximum and interferences were sky high (it went up to the level where a former Chief Justice made a public apology for one of his own judgments); and the media was silenced either through attacks and intimidation or through buying over the ownership.

Who did all these undemocratic practices? Nisha Biswal, Tony Blair or Ban Ki-moon (remember, one senior minister staged a fast-unto-death in front of UN Colombo office?) or US government or UNHRC in Geneva? Sorry, none of them, by ourselves; our own elected government.

The Buddha provides perfect advice in this context. Na paresam vilomaani – Na paresam kataakatam; Attanova avekkheiya – Kataani akataani ca (pupha vagga-dhammapada). One should not have regard for the bad deeds of others, nor the things done and left undone by others, but only for the things done and left undone by oneself.

The acts of the international community would always be the responses to our own conduct. What we have done so far for the past ten years have been reacting to such responses, but without looking at own selves and correcting ourselves. Such reactionary responses are both waste of time and resources at every sense. That is why we spent millions of dollars from the public coffers to international PR agencies to build the damaged image of Sri Lanka at international theatre with zero results.

When reading the response by Hon. Lakshman Kiriella of the UNP to the Daily Mirror editorial of Tuesday (25), he had a similar argument to this point. Of course, the international community would start sharpening its swords against us, but why should they do so, if we get our own house cleared and cleaned.

We should not leave our destiny to the hands of others, as stated by Kiriella. It should be in our own hands.

 

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    A good piece Ranga.

  • 5
    0

    The 4th Estate has let down Sri Lankan citizenry – merely on the pretext of white-vans.
    They had modern technology to tell the truth instead of now saying “No story worth your
    life”

    The FCID has done its duty and now it is a Judicial matter.

    Corruption at its peak during MRs Regime as summarized hereunder, not dealt by the
    main media outfits then are –

    1. Case No. 474/2015 at Fort M.C. dealing with Hedging Fund and involving A.N.Cabraal, PB Jayasuendra, A de Mel, L.Karunaratne (Rs.200-700 Million ) 2. Case No. 24327/2015 at Chief M.C.(3) In the matter of Lanka Hospital shares and connected to G. Rajapakse, Roshini ,Cabraal, N.Godahewa, D.Jayaweera, M. Medihewa, W.Amunugamuwa, D.P.Y. Wijesinghe. (Rs. 600 million) 3. B26907/3/15 at Colombo M.C re Housing deals connected with W.Weerasena,B.K.J.K.Perera. 4. B/40/2015 at Kaduwella M.C. re Land purchases, involving Mrs. W.Weerasena, C.S.Ranasinhe. 5. B323/15 in Tangalle M.C. about Carlton Pre-school construction involving State Eng. Corporation Staff (Rs. 35 million) 6. 8674/15 in Pugoda M.C. re Development works, involving B.Rajapakse, N. Thirukumar 7. B22467/1/15 at Colombo Chief M.C. re Money Laundering by M. Aluthgamage (Rs. 3 – 27 million) 8. B22468/1/15 in Colombo Chief M.C. on Wealth acquired of Dr.P.B. Wickrema. 9. B25389/1/15 at Colombo C.M.Court re Money Laundering by G.Senarath. 10. B25166/3/15 at Colombo Ch M.C. Teleshan TV Network with A.Pilapita S.Wickremasinghe, and Sil Reddi with L.Weeratunga and Ven.V.Somananda Thero. 11. B9825/15 at Kaduwela M.C. re CSN Channel involving ITN Directorate & Staff. 12. B35/15 at Kaduwela M.C. re ownership of Marriot Hotel in Dubai with N.Lokuwitharne and M.Rajapakse ( Rs. 48 to 190 million) 13. B27453/1/15 at Hultsdorf M.C. about Lanka Logistics Arms importing connected to G.Rajapakse, P.B.Jayasundera, Mohan Peiris, J.Wickremasinghe. 14. B/663/15 at Fort M.C. on Bank of Ceylon, Seychelles by M. Rajapakse & family 15. Greek Bonds purchase with names of Cabraal & Rajapakse in Petition Colombo M.C of 15.8.15 involving Rs. 1257 million 16. Sajin Vass Gunewardena in abuse of Public property, at Fort Magistrate Court, remanded since May, 2015. Also at Bribery Com. for questionable Assets. 17. Petition accepted in Supreme Court on 6.8.15 re Vehicle Permits abuse 18. Case No. 50/10 at High Courts, Kandy: Captain Wickremasinghe`s activity in Giritale Army Camp re Torture Chambers – under G. Rajapakse`s directions?

  • 3
    0

    While the credibility of the Central Bank and its statistical integrity
    was throughout high, in recent years the advent of outsiders entering the portals of the CBSL brings to memory what is popularly known currently as “Greek mathematics” – dubiously named after Greece when she was found to be inflating and deflating her economic figures to hoodwink the EU and global lending institutions. We all know what happened to Greece and what awaits her immediate future.

    Responsible Sri Lankan political leaders must ensure we do not suffer the public opprobrium and indignity that ancient land of Greece is now
    fated to endure.

    Backlash

  • 7
    0

    Regarding Sarath Silva and his confession. Is there a legal reason why he cannot be arrested and convicted for his own admission. It should be the shortest trial with no need for witnesses or a long winding defence since the crime has been admitted to by the accused.

    • 0
      0

      The so-called Public Interst outfits might get down to doing this even if it is late, to
      prove a point. Over to CPA, FF etc., & CAFEE as it came up with abolishing PTA just
      when Army Officers were to be taken in under this Law !!

  • 11
    3

    Hi Ranga
    Yours is a very analytical article. You are telling our leaders to take the destiny in our hands.”We should not leave our destiny to the hands of others, as stated by Kiriella. It should be in our own hands”.

    But why are our leaders not following your advice. Simple, it is because our people do not care about what the leaders do. Even after press reports that billions of dollars were swindled by Rajapakses and vengeful acts of white van abductions,torture and murder by the previous regime, the southern people overwhelmingly voted for Mahinda Rajapakse and his cronies. Our people are like buffaloes. They cannot understand why international attention was directed towards Srilanka. As long as Buddha statues were erected in every corner they think their rulers are looking after them.
    In the north people are more careful in their choices. They made sure not a single candidate of an ex-Tiger faction was elected. They rejected extremism in politics. If people are educated enough to know their candidates we can probably take our destiny in our hands. Otherwise someone else would.

  • 9
    0

    Today, in the name of so-called National Government the dog fight for cabinet posts goes on and deals have been made between leaders of the SLFP and UNP to forgive and forget past corruption so the party for Corrupt Politicians in the Diyawenna Parliament of morons, can go on!

    Sirisena and Ranil’s so-called national government to cover up corruption, and keep the public IGNORANT is an insult the people of Sri Lanka and the voting public.

    Under the pretext of a national government which is really a SINHALA NATIONAL GOVERNMENT since the TNA is not in it, we will soon have a gigantic cabinet of corrupt clowns, even as the
    the corruption cases against the insider trader at the Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendran and his son-in-law were withdrawn, as were the cases against Nivard Cabraal and Mahinda Jarapassa yesterday.

    As horse trading and bargaining for Cabinet posts for corrupt clowns between UNP and SLFP goes on under the guise of forming a National Government, the case against Gotabaya jarapassa and his cronies who ran an paramilitary company and a floating armoury with Ministry of Defense Funds have been withdraw by the AG’s office.

    Like the Bribary Commission the AG needs to be investigated for Corruption. Ironically, Sri Lanka’s good governance institutions are corrupt and sick to the core and the biggest criminals are the law makers – politicians! Black is white, and white in Black in the miracle of modayas.

    SIrisena’s dance for a national government with his national list of corrupt SLFP politicains is a disaster and an insult to the people of Sri Lanka and the intelligence of the voting public.!

  • 6
    3

    There is an extremely simple explanation for this apparent disparity in the population data. The figures for 2009 – 2011 are mid-year estimates based on the results of the Census of Population conducted in 2001, which was itself partly estimated due to the then prevailing situation in the country. Moreover, all statistical estimates as any student of statistics knows (which may however not be known to students of journalism) contain degrees of error. Any researcher who is familiar with the local socio-economic databases is quite aware of this practice and the limitations of these annual population estimates.

    The figure for 2012 on the other hand is accurate because it is extracted from the latest Census data and will be used to estimate annual mid-year estimates until the next Census in 2022.

    What is shocking is the deliberate attempt by the former senior World Bank Official to mislead poor Dr Ranga Kalansooriya into believing that the “Central Bank is lying with it’s data” and that “Sri Lanka lost half-a-million people in 2012, according to the Central Bank Report”.

    • 5
      2

      This preposterous attempt to explain the disparity can be taken with a pinch of salt by the gullible.

      • 2
        2

        The ‘preposterous’ nature of the simple explanation can be evaluated by referring to the Statistical Handbook 2014 published by the Dept of Census & Statistics and available for reference at it’s website. The figures published by the Central Bank are actually the official annual population estimates released by the Census Dept.

        The fly-by-night World Bank Expert appears to have missed this too.

        • 4
          0

          Whatever the limitations of annual population estimates, a degree of error amounting to (-) 2.5% , amounting to a ‘loss’ of half-a-million people is simply laughable and calls for explanation by the highest levels of officialdom for the deliberate cooking of the books to hoodwink the masses, in a country with a supposedly high education level. Any preposterous attempts to ‘explain’ the disparity as a function of statistical aberrations need to be condemned as is the attempt to shoot the messenger instead of the message. Likewise, the Fourth Estates attempt to take umbrage for not doing its duty to the public under the pretext of threats at the time from White Vans and Killer Death Squads is just pure nonsensical. It should be remembered that not every citizen of the country is still an Amude wearing Goviyya or a Ralahamy with a tortoise-shell comb stuck in his Porape. The recent defeat of our modern day Dutugemunu at the polls is ample proof of that fact. So, hope the new My3 -inspired govt takes serious note.

  • 1
    0

    What the bloody hell is Yahapalanaya doing. Ranil/ maithree. The lower level voter as you may understand that is the majority will not want to understand all this! They believe only in the threat to Sinhala Buddhists! However Yahapalanaya means sorting everything out to ensure accountability, including what the previous regime did! They have to be accountable so that the Yahapalanaya guys remain accountable!! When investigations stall, like the Gota case, it leaves room for these guys to do the same! The onus is on Maithripala to ensure Ranil to do so. Although Ranil has not been accused of corruption, he has remained passive when others played out like the CWE Case! JR did a similar thing by getting pre signed letters and allow people to play out within limits! MR being corrupt allowed others to play out as long as the King’s share went to them!this is a strategy to keep the crooks together without disrupting the majority! We can now see how the Yahapalanaya keep the crooks of the former regime within government since they will dictate terms of prosecution of the guys accused and future corruption and prosecutions!

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