By Karu Jayasuriya –
Many Sri Lankans are unaware of the heavy price that we have to incur in the coming weeks and months for the enormous cost borne for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that was recently concluded. The public cannot be blamed for this since the Government has purposefully left everyone in the dark regarding the exuberant expenditure for the event. Though the opposition has repeatedly asked for accounts for this event the Government has not shown an iota of transparency. What was the cost of all those vehicles that were imported and the numerous contracts given to decorate the city? Were tenders called for this purpose? On what criteria were the importers and service providers selected? These are but normal questions that a responsible Government claiming to adhere to the Commonwealth values of good governance and transparency should be most willing to answer. Not so in Sri Lanka.
One thing is of course certain. Whatever the colossal cost of this event it was borne by the people of this country. This is on top of the mounting living costs, like for example the cost of a kilo of large onions rising to an unprecedented Rs 240. It was free food and drink for all and sundry at the conference venue.
The millions of dollars and billions of rupees spawned another breed of millionaires, who won kickbacks and commissions, is all too well known. Yet the pervading fear has driven the people and the country’s media to the graveyard of the silenced. No one dare raise questions and earn the wrath of iron fisted authority.
It is relevant to take stock of at least a few aspects of the CHOGM. The most important is the fact that it was a carnival emblematic of the ruling Rajapaksa regime and family. Not one elected Member of Parliament in the Opposition was present. Making Mahinda Rajapaksa the Chair- in-Office endorses the beginning of yet another phase of autocracy. With this, it is not only the opposition but those differing in their views from the Government who will increasingly become prime targets.
Earlier, the United National Party had asked its National Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe to attend. However, mobs attacked his car on Wednesday. On Thursday they carried out further attacks outside party headquarters, Siri Kotha. Some mobs even gained entry. Regrettably sections of the security forces were responsible for transporting crowds using state owned vehicles. This was whilst the Police watched. One can only infer they were under instructions not to enforce law and order by those who remain high and mighty. If this is how a democratically elected Opposition is being stifled, the plight of the ordinary citizen has become worse.
Such attacks have been deliberately directed at the United National Party (UNP) at a time when it has been vested with a Leadership Council. It is well known that the UNP is on the road to expand its grass roots level organizations and become a strong voice for the suffering public. Brute force, abuse of authority, deployment of private militias or arrogance of power is facets detested by the people of Sri Lanka. Hence, such efforts are doomed to fail.
Another aspect is equally glaring. Only some 23 Heads of Government attended the CHOGM, the lowest number for any such event in memory. This proved a lie the claims of the Government that 37 Heads of Government have confirmed and would take part. Wide media publicity was given to this proud boast. Like hiding costs incurred for the CHOGM, here was another instance of how the people of Sri Lanka were totally misled with disinformation. Despite Sri Lanka’s Constitution making provision for the use of Tamil, all name board and hoardings related to CHOGM were only in Sinhala and English.
At the Commonwealth Business Forum, the only investor who championed Sri Lanka’s cause was an Australian casino magnate. State run media gave wide publicity to his utterances that the country was on the road to economic prosperity. Unable to lure genuine Direct Foreign Investment, the Government is now at the mercy of casino operators to make the country prosperous and have made them the symbol of economic renaissance.
Despite a pernicious campaign by powerful elements within the Government, the United National Party pledges to continue its efforts countrywide to expose insidious attempts by a corrupt regime to foist an autocracy. Fundamental freedoms – rule of law, freedom of expression, the right for a citizen to have his own views and not necessarily that of the Government – are among those fast eroding. The time has come for every citizen to contribute their might to reverse this situation. The UNP will stand steadfastly by them.
*Media Statement by Karu Jayasuriya, Chairman, United Leadership Council – United National Party -Issued on 20th November 2013