By Sharmini Serasinghe –
There is a tangible feeling of an impending carnival-coming-to-town in the air these days in Colombo. The city is being virtually turned up-side-down and inside-out, dusted and vacuumed by the Surgeon General of Lanka’s cosmetic surgery-Urban Development cum Defence – in order to make it look pretty to impress the visiting revelers.
Vibrant coloured banners and gadgets decorate the streets and roundabouts, competing with larger-than-life cut-outs of our very own Emperor-in-new-clothes. Trees pruned and some uprooted, innocent homeless dogs banished, roads re-carpeted and of course the pavements/side-walks dug up and some still awaiting to be tiled. In the interim, pedestrians at great risk to life and limb must share the roads with speeding vehicles.
In short, anything that doesn’t look pretty and prosperous is being removed and pretty-looking-things put in its place.
But this is not just any ol’ carnival coming to town, it’s CHOGM!
One wonders if such a din has ever been made by any other member nation over CHOGM during the entire 64-year history of the organisation.
With the exception of Canada, and some reticence on the part of India (caught up in a ‘to-go or no-to-go’ quandary) ultimately deciding if India’s foreign policy or domestic politics will win, some 50-odd countries are eagerly trotting to Lanka to attend our Emperor’s carnival. And, of course, Britain is obliged to come after that massive Rolls-Royce deal they clinched with Lanka (or should it be with the Emperor and his Clan, at the expense of the Lankan tax-payer).
After all it’s getting rather cold in some of those countries, so why not enjoy an all-paid holiday, basking in our warm weather, sandy beaches, friendly smiles and our legendary hospitality – again, courtesy Lanka’s tax-payers.
In order to facilitate this carnival and picnic, thirty-five schools in Colombo are now closed for two weeks “in order to implement a comprehensive security plan for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)” states the official website of the Ministry of Defence & Urban Development.
Furthermore Universities around the country will be closed for one week while the Carnival is in town. Why close Universities around the country when the performance is happening in Colombo?
This is an obvious move to silence any rising voices of dissent amongst our vibrant young student community that will obviously embarrass the hosts – Emperor and Clan – while the ‘foreigners’ are around, the foreign media in particular.
Ironically, while the country’s Universities remain ‘closed’ the first private University in Lanka, a very controversial one at that, is expected to be officially declared ‘open’ during the ‘carnival period’. How about that?
CHOGM in Lanka is not a victory for our country but a massive, opulent and extravagant ego-booster for the Emperor and his clan. It has been argued elsewhere in these columns that “Hosting this event is an opportunity for the host country to make a lot of money”.
Under different circumstances with a leadership and political administration more open to transparency, decency and honesty this could well be true. But in the current scenario the question begs “who” in the host country, (in Sri Lanka) will be making a lot of money? And will all that “lot of money” go towards the betterment of the country OR will it all wind up in the pockets of the Emperor’s lackeys or both?
Thus far CHOGM has only one significant achievement worthy of being remembered- its stand against apartheid in South Africa. Thereafter it dwindled into a toothless talk-shop that issues declarations not worthy of the paper it’s written on at the end of each meeting.
Perhaps this is why there are no qualms amongst the member nations about a fellow member governed by an administration that has violated with impunity, the core values enshrined in the Commonwealth charter- Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law being given the Chair of the organisation for a period of two years.
Had the Commonwealth been made up of a strong back-bone, this would have been the ideal opportunity to trap our Emperor in a catch-22 situation. After all he will be the Commonwealth Chairperson-in-Office (CIO) for the next two years, with the onus on him to uphold the core values of the Commonwealth Charter- Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
Our Emperor obviously realises this. If for whatever reason he is stripped of the Commonwealth Chair, he will use it as a weapon to win the next Presidential election. He will go howling to our gullible masses about the injustice caused to him by the International Community and the usual sympathy vote will come into play again.
Naming and shaming our Emperor in the international arena will have no effect, since, “how can you shame those who have no shame” as one wise one put it. One thing is assured, after the Carnival leaves town- the hungry will be hungrier, the poor will be poorer and the rich will become richer and richest. Budget 2014 will ensure that.
But all will be forgiven and forgotten come the next Presidential election. For the majority of our stupid voting public will never realise, that Rajapaksa is NOT Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka is NOT Rajapaksa!
*Sharmini Serasinghe was Director Communications of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) under Secretary Generals Dr. John Gooneratne and Jayantha Dhanapala. She counts over thirty years in journalism in both the print and electronic media.