Colombo Telegraph

Are We There Yet?

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

The question that constitutes the title of this piece owes its origins to children who are on some exciting journey with their parents and can’t wait to reach the promised destination.

In this instance the “destination” is one of anarchy and the total destruction of democracy as it has developed over, at least, the “last 2500 years of Sinhala Buddhist civilization” which is the context within which all that is good should be viewed as far as those ‘calling the shots’ in Sri Lanka are concerned.

Our modest “Home stay” operation had an European family as guests and what made them different was the fact that the husband/father was a career diplomat who had served in Africa.

He regaled us with humourous (if you didn’t have to live there) stories of law enforcement, if that is the word given to what occurs in some of the East African countries. I hope that by recounting one anecdote at least I don’t provide our local traffic cops with another means of collecting “palm oil.”

He told us how the police in Kenya were known to rent out their uniforms on week-ends to friends on civvy street who could employ them as the accoutrements of choice in the collection of bribes. After all, can you extort money from a member of the public anywhere without being appropriately uniformed? He also gave us a fascinating description of the brutal occupation and destruction of life and property in a large shopping mall in that country. Apparently the government has a crack unit specifically trained to deal with such incidents. Unfortunately, however the plane required to bring them in and which was maintained specifically for that purpose was unavailable. Why? Because a high-ranking officer was using it for his own personal purposes! The end result of that particular calamity was a shoot-out between the army and police for control of the mall – there having been only four (that’s right 4) original terrorists who had been dispatched quickly enough. The battle for control of the retail hub ended up in its total destruction, save for what the (uniformed) looters were able to spirit away. I don’t recall who “won” that particular skirmish but I was informed that it resulted in the total destruction of Kenya’s largest shopping mall.

In the adjacent Tanganyika, the corruption is alleged to be far worse than in Kenya but is kept under wraps by a government that very successfully quashes any sign of exposure of government venality very quickly indeed.

What provoked these thoughts was the fact that Uhuru Kenyatta, the head of the Kenyan state, had recently proclaimed that Kenya had given up the fight to rid itself of corruption because, basically, it was an impossible task given how deeply embedded corruption was in the modern Kenyan culture. The manner in which this statement was reported in the international media suggested that it wasn’t a random outburst brought about by any particularly dramatic event but one born of a series that had constituted a cultural change in the manner in which Kenya chose to govern itself. At least that was the choice of those in the seats of power, because it was rather unlikely that the average Kenyan would opt for something that would take the bread off the table of his family. But where “power comes out of the barrel of a gun” as Mao so aptly put it, Joe Citizen, doesn’t have too many choices.

The “Unuth ekai, munuth ekai” (“six of one and half a dozen of the other”) conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka suggest that we are well on the way down a similar slippery slope.

In a strange twist to the attribute in question, in the so-called “western democracies,” the hypocrisy that is alive and well in the matter of public pronouncements by those running those nations gives one some hope. Why? Because such hypocrisy is a clear indication of the acceptance of public morality, honesty and similar virtues in the conduct of democratic governance as it was once known to exist in theory if not practice!

The convulsion that occurred on January 8th of last year was a clear indication that a majority of our citizenry believed that “good governance” could be our reality; at least a start could be made in that journey. The tragedy is that that is not happening.

I would like to hope that we have enough people of integrity, ready to stand up to be counted even at considerable risk to themselves, who will keep the pressure on the present bunch not to slide into the mire of wholesale theft of what belongs to the nation as did the “movers and shakers” of the previous regime.

What is of immediate urgency, is that those with a primary responsibility for “justice” are not the most inappropriate on the government side of the house to fulfill such obligations. To have a Minister in charge of justice proclaiming that it will be over his dead body that any “harm” befalls any member of a particular family against whom the body of circumstantial evidence of theft of public resources is reaching Himalayan proportions, is beyond acceptable.

It gets worse!

When the world is assuming the characteristics of a tinder box in the matter of racial, ethnic and religious demonization, this same individual issues what can accurately be described as an incendiary statement that thirty-odd prominent Muslim families have contributed their progeny to ISIS or some similarly murderous terrorist group. The specificity of the statement clearly gave it the potential to provoke all kinds of mayhem in a country that, not so long ago, saw the invasion of a mosque in one of Sri Lanka’s largest Muslim towns. The result of that particular “adventure” was the killing of worshippers and the destruction of homes of people who had nothing to do with anything resembling a militant Islamic organization. The crime for which they were punished? Being Muslims.

There is no excuse for keeping individuals such as this on the benches of a government claiming to represent religious tolerance and a healing of the very deep wounds of a long drawn-out ethnic conflict.

The excuse for tolerating such as these, often on the front benches, is that they are needed to raise their hands in support of a government dedicated to ethnic harmony and all the great and wonderful characteristics of a democratic state. Pray tell how giving jackals control of the chicken coop is going to improve the future of the poultry? In closing, I expect that I should apologise to those who think that sheep and wolves might be a more appropriate analogy than chickens and jackals. The reason is that I’ve tried to stay close to home, as it were, and wolves have an image of dignity that the humans I am seeking to describe lack completely.

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