By Emil van der Poorten –
Being confined to the “boondocks” of Sri Lanka gives one a particular advantage in having access to the rural pulse of this country.
The unbelievable turmoil in matters political in the Miracle/Debacle of Asia is probably without precedent in the post-independence history of this country. There is no longer “left” and “right” in Sri Lankan politics or the three choices that S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike claimed we had when his Sri Lanka Freedom Party introduced his briefly-touted “middle way.”
We have before us and one needs add the proviso, “at time of writing” given the constantly changing allegiances, a real political “mallung.”
That said, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the current situation.
In less than two months we will be faced with an opportunity to decide whether we want a democratic dispensation of a traditional (western?) kind, with all of its myriad shortcomings, or an autocratic government operating on a bed of corruption and violence. We have in our history after 1948 experienced both of these in a variety of manifestations.
My reading of January 8th 2015 is of a nation’s decision – even if one accepts the argument that the margin of victory might well have been constituted by the so-called minority communities – to reject the wholesale plunder of the national treasury by making “commissions” the cornerstone of the alleged economic development in Sri Lanka which, in its corrupt and violent entirety, had reached depths not achieved previously except, perhaps, in the first burst of the J. R. Jayewardene “liberalization” of the later 1970s. In President Jayewardene’s case his invitation was to the offshore “robber barons” who gladly accepted. In the case of the Rajapaksa dispensation, it has been far more local with the siphoning off of huge sums of money that should have gone into real economic activity into the pockets of a pyramid of corruption.
However, the immediate result of a seeming freeze on the most outrageous of these such as the port- and land-expansion monstrosity in Colombo, has been a concomitant freeze of economic activity downstream from the primary projects.
While there is no gainsaying the environmental degradation resulting from the massive harvesting of granite and sand from various parts of the country, with no prior evaluation whatsoever, it did provide employment to those blasting the rock, (illegally) ‘mining’ sand, transporting both commodities and those engaged in applying that raw material at the sites where the construction and land reclamation was happening, in Colombo.
The sight of 57 tipper trucks apprehended at one completely illegal sand-mining site a few days ago certainly gladdened the hearts of those who have been appalled by the seemingly endless environmental degradation – truly the rape of a nation – that has been going on for several years. But, and this is a “but” that only the myopic will disregard, the apprehension of those trucks and their operators has closed out the employment of dozens of workers “downstream” from that event.
Make no mistake, I don’t think there is any moral or economic justification for activity that enriches a miniscule minority of this country’s population while the other side of that ledger means permanent damage to this country’s environment and to the vast majority of its people.
But remember that old chestnut, “In the long run, we’ll all be dead?” That is the moral dilemma that the coming election presents to many: do you bite the bullet, no matter what the pangs of hunger (literally) might be, in the interests of real economic development and recovery or do you go along with what was, blatantly, the status quo up to the 8th of January 2015?
In some cases, the response is going to be a “no brainer” in that workers who have to find the means of feeding their dependents will have little choice but to respond to the “here and now” and simply go with what keeps them and their children from a premature grave.
What complicates the equation further is the fact that a significant number, if not the majority, of voters see many of the so-called “leaders” of the current dispensation as not only reaping the benefits of President Sirisena’s victory but acting in such a manner that, should there be a return of the Rajapaksa Regime, they will in no way suffer.
The government is seen as going after the sprats of corruption while the sharks swim free! Will this perception lead to a significant enough number of voters either sitting on their hands at voting time or (God forbid!) voting for those they only succeeded in dislodging a few months ago, using that old excuse of “better a thief you know than one you don’t?”
There is also the matter of the huge profits that big business and the banks have made under the Rajapaksa dispensation. Make no mistake they know how to read a bottom line and how and when to defend it and they have an excellent stalking horse with which to do it in the person of Mahinda Rajapaksa who has never failed to tout himself as a socialist and a “man of the people.”
There has also been the bubble of accelerated business activity generated by the flood of “black” money. Since Sirisena’s victory, the price of land in our part of the world has dropped significantly and the current wisdom is that it is directly attributable to the springs of “black” money not flowing as freely as they did in the recent past.
The stock exchange, sans the “pump and dump” manipulations with “black” money and with state funds from such as the National Savings Bank and the Employees’ Provident Fund and the proceeds of “commissions,” has similarly slowed to a crawl according to observers.
An economic bubble created by letting loose a flood of “dirty” money appears to have burst and its impact is being felt in both the formal and informal sectors of Sri Lanka’s economy.
Another factor of major consequence is the army of the corrupt that has built up over the years and which is not going to stand by and lose control of their streams of income. Make no mistake, there is “critical mass” here in terms of the politicians from the lowly Pradeshiya Sabha member to those who held positions of power and importance in the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Their futures are now indissolubly linked with that of our recently deposed monarch and they are not “going to go gentle into the night.” Everything from their Gucci footwear to their luxury limos will be at stake on the 17th of August 2015 and they will unleash whatever it takes to survive (and thrive). This, in fact, could be the single most important factor in what lies ahead for this country and what I have to say in the paragraphs that follow this statement is going to be vital in that context.
In a very real sense, corruption and illegality has ruled this country and the affairs of Sri Lanka have been conducted accordingly. We are now going to have to endure an economic and political revolution before some sense of sanity is restored.
Not easy, by a long shot!
There is a great deal to do and very little time in which to do it in the matter of building on the foundation of principle that was laid on January 8th 2015 and I would make the (obvious) observation that desperate situations call for radical responses.
The governing group, the United National Party in particular, needs to divest itself of those with so much as a taint of corruption about them. The whole “Affaire Arjuna Mahendran” left a bad taste not only in the mouths of the so-called sophisticated middle-class of this country but appears to have percolated down to the allegedly less-sophisticated in our society who, like anyone with a nose, can smell a rat! This is perceived, in some quarters at least, as a classic case of a reversal of the need for justice not only being done but being seen to be done. The public perception is that the government and its leadership has not come clean about this whole sorry episode and that there is, at best, sleight of hand and, at worst, a cover-up. I have been told by several who claim to know Mr. Mahendran very well and have nothing to gain from defending him that he is totally incapable of what he is being accused of. It might still not be too late for Ranil Wickremesinghe and Co. to clear the air on this matter or have they caught the contagion of monumental arrogance that ultimately did Mahinda Rajapaksa in?
Far more serious and more difficult of solution is the matter of ridding the leadership of any government that emerges victorious after the next election of every single one of those with even a vestige of corruption about them. I am not about to repeat a list of those that both I and the general public are already well acquainted with. Mr. Wickremesinghe has to choose the national good over considerations of “political loyalty” and rid himself of the asps that he has, perhaps for reasons of loyalty, chosen to clasp to his bosom. In the general population, even his worst critics, acknowledge Ranil Wickremesinghe as an honest and capable man in financial and political matters but they do not view many of those he has surrounded himself with in a similar light. And with good reason. In affairs political, it is obviously not easy to do what I am suggesting must be done but given the situation in Sri Lanka, nothing less will suffice, particularly since several of them have, pretty openly, bought “insurance” in the event of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s return. Many of them have enough intelligence and political knowledge to be consigned to some diplomatic Coventry. They might serve us acceptably in such locations as Washington or the Court of Saint James, for instance.
While the postings suggested could well be an option, the bottom line is that they must be got rid of because the last thing that this country needs and can tolerate is a bunch of wolves in sheep’s clothing!