By Emil van der Poorten –
As I watched the seemingly endless line of those who could accurately be described as giving even Sri Lankan politics a bad name parading before the TV cameras of what appeared to be every TV station in Sri Lanka, it stretched, to its very extreme, the credibility of one who thought he had seen it all in the matter of political parody and downright corruption during a life that had spanned far closer to eight than seven decades.
If you thought the excesses of Mugabe, Idi Amin and Ceaucesceau were close to unbelievable you really missed a treat if you didn’t see what Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe had prepared for us Sri Lankans. This was entertainment beyond belief and I am extending the meaning of the word “entertainment” beyond what used to be called “gallows humour.”
There was that antithesis of a glamour boy, Dilan Perera, with his inimitable (thank heaven!) hairdo declaiming his oath as a Minister of some description or another. (Does it matter what the hell the title is any longer given the theatre of the absurd that is being played out for us and at our expense?)
This Dilan Perera I seem to remember for all the wrong reasons.
I first recall him harrumphing that there was no way he was going to share a government bench with Susantha Punchinilame when that worthy, for reasons very well known to observers of the political scene at the time, was one of those members of the United National Party (UNP) who had led the stampede to join Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. The reason for Mr. Perera’s towering indignation was a charge of a capital nature hanging over this Punchinilame’s head in connection with the demise of a politician by the name of Ellawela who, Mr. Perera claimed, was very near and dear to him both politically and personally.
Well, my friends, Mr. Punchinilame sat on the Rajapaksa government’s side of the house and, even if Dilan Perera wasn’t his immediate neighbour, they were both on the same side of the aisle. In fact, all they didn‘t do was walk down that political aisle to seek the blessings of their Optimum Leader, though, goodness knows, their treatment of our last President seemed to elevate him to a level higher than the Deity.
I should add a postscript to this part of my little narrative with a question about the fate of the capital charges that hung over Mr. Punchinilame’s head and which, I am sure, had absolutely nothing to do with his leaving the UNP and joining the Rajapaksa government in the first instance. However, opening any such can of worms might be deemed churlish in the circumstances!
In contradiction of the oft-believed dictum that history does not repeat itself, the most recent political developments in our fair isle have resulted in Mr. Punchinilame and Mr. Perera sharing a metaphorical political bench again, only this time, with Mahinda Rajapaksa sitting on the other side of that particular aisle. To call this some kind of Punch(inilame) and JuDilan Show would really be to push the pun, I suppose!
Unfortunately, Mr. Perera, who is not exactly one of my matinee idols as you might have gathered by now, is one politician who has seemingly left an indelible impression in my mind, beginning with the monumental scandals in the Foreign Employment Bureau to the ultimate in boorish conduct during the kangaroo court proceedings when Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was first verbally abused and then “legally” impeached. The earlier-mentioned brouhaha with Mr. Punchinilame provides a mere filling to that particular sandwich, it seems.
That a man who has, publicly, demonstrated conduct of this kind, flouted it in fact in the face of the public, should be given anything resembling a position of public trust is truly beyond description. That said, it should be emphasised that it speaks far more loudly of those responsible for his elevation than it does with regard to Mr. Perera.
If this is what Yahapaalanaya government means in practice……………
However, another conspiracy theorist of my acquaintance is insistent that this is part of a deep-laid plot hatched by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa to bring back to power Sri Lanka’s recent example of its very own ancien regime, with some further shuffling of the chairs on our particular Titanic. The simple theory is that you can make anything look good in contrast to something that’s worse and that the new developments will provide proof positive of that theory!
And then of course you have the lesser lights.
I remember the now conveniently-forgotten haul of several hundred kilos of heroin which was being taken out of the port in a container truck.
Let me dredge a few tidbits about all of that before the salient bits are lost from memory.
1. A container-load of heroin was in the process of leaving the port when it ran into a police roadblock, a fate that, strangely enough, its predecessors had not met!
2. Initial inquiries showed, quite simply, that the consignment concerned had been released on the written instructions of the top functionary in the then-Prime Minister, D. M. Jayaratne’s, office, additionally ordering that any demurrage charges be waived.
3. It was then acknowledged that the owner of the consignment of heroin had bankrolled the only recently-concluded Provincial Election Campaign of Mr. D.M. Jayaratne’s son, Anuradha, a campaign in which he topped the manape (preferential vote) count.
4. Mr. D. M. Jayaratne, then Prime Minister, also freely acknowledged the fact that the Pakistani businessman (?) who had indulged in that piece of political “support” was a frequent dinner guest at the Prime Ministerial residence.
(Does one have to start joining any plot dots at this point?)
5. Mr. Jayaratne Jr. runs in the last national election and succeeds in getting elected thanks to the wonderful system put in place by Yankee Dick Jayewardene that has seen so many absolute monuments to democracy being chosen as “people’s representatives.”
(What has just been recounted in the matter of electoral practice by the voters of the Hill Country could be attributed to the level of intelligence of people in a region of the country where, at one time, the term “Kandyan brains” needed little further explanation!)
6. Then, one of the earliest actions of the Yahapaalanaya dispensation is to make now ex-PM Jayaratne a Presidential Advisor for, I can only assume, acceptable protocol in the matter of dinner invitations.
7. As if the preceding unfortunate occurrences were not enough, those of us who rely on the print and/or electronic media for entertainment and information (?) are assailed by the sight of the same Mr. Anuradha Jayaratne being elevated to Ministerial rank of some description by the MSRW duo who might well be on the way to being awarded the first Joint Honorary Oscar for Horror Plots, at the next Academy Awards.
8. A sad post-script to all of this is the fact that the Pakistani businessman whose demurrage charges even (on the load of heroin) were waived by Prime Ministerial diktat is missing from all of this. One might even suggest that his absence is akin to that of Hamlet from any tale (cautionary or otherwise) about the Prince of Denmark. The fact that he is not in custody, charged with the biggest single dope import in the country’s history, pales into insignificance in circumstances when comedy must needs take precedence over drama or tragedy in troublous times such as we face today.
And if all my readers, agree to drink their hot Milo and go to bed immediately, hugging their Teddy Bears, I promise to regale them with more tales of horror in the days to come, a promise not hard to keep given what our MSRW duo keep producing!