By Emil van der Poorten –
A popular expression talks about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. However, no one has suggested where you go after you’ve reached the latter destination. This is something that needs urgent attention by students of the English language in Sri Lanka.
I have, more times than I care to remember, sought to draw attention to the “rent seekers”, “insurance buyers” and similar political creatures who seem determined to destroy what is left of the fabric of this country, both moral and economic.
Now, along come “the Panama Papers” naming names and one individual whose name appears on the list of miscreants has the unmitigated gall to have his legal eagle call a media conference to issue a not-so-veiled threat against anyone having the temerity to so much as mention his client’s name in any story about the Panama Papers, the documentation of a monumental storage of stolen finances from around the world. Given the moral standards that his client appears to subscribe to, that man he should have been flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as some very senior Scandinavian politician who is in virtual hiding from the media, not to mention his fellow citizens!
The only response that rivals this is the abuse directed at one web publication for publishing a photograph of this lawyer’s client with the man who can very accurately be described as his mentor and boss: Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Interesting indeed, because the photograph in question was very obviously a “photo op” for the most senior functionary of Avant Garde with the man responsible for creating that private armed force and giving him authority over it. Please note that I didn’t use the term “private army” because to do so would do it a disservice to that entity in view of its arsenal being accurately described as a “floating armory.”
It is only in this new climate of impunity for those who revelled in such a state of affairs during the Rajapaksa Regime that this kind of ludicrousness is not simply “laughed out of court,” as that old saying had it but knowingly tolerated.
However, that’s about all that is funny about the status quo.
Let me state the obvious at this point: the Maithripala Sirisena/Ranil Wickremesinghe government (MR2) was NOT elected to shield those who sought to deliberately destroy the moral and economic fabric of this country. It is doing exactly that by shielding those who should be facing prosecution with the long, attendant sentences (at least) that their conduct has earned them.
Instead, the miscreants are running free, coming and going from this country as they please except for the odd, short term exception, which should hardly hinder efforts to move their ill-gotten loot from one suddenly-unsafe haven to another deemed more appropriate for stashing stolen money.
Avant Garde, amidst the horrendous implications of its conduct and the to which those controlling it were in the process of putting it, had disappeared from the public gaze after the very dramatic circumstances of its creation and management were brought to the public’s attention. However, as that old sage of US baseball said, “It ain’t over till it’s over” and the “Panama Papers” has resurrected the whole affair. That said, it shouldn’t be forgotten that, had not this international scandal featured the names of, literally, dozens of Sri Lankans, the ultimate reason for the existence of Avant Garde might well have been buried in the sands of time. The reason for that original burial was that it was patently obvious that there were very influential members of the current regime who chose that it should be so. Simply, a cover up which, it has been hinted, had significant bribery attached to it. A more charitable explanation for that might be that some now in one of the seats of power, “owed” those who should have been prosecuted in the highest courts in the land. The circumstantial evidence of soft-pedaling and covering up the wrong-doing of the late-unlamented lot gets more obvious as the weeks go by, notwithstanding the pretended political piety and association with the highest levels of the legal profession of one individual in particular.
I need hardly refer to the resignation-deserving behaviour of the human tent parading as a senior cabinet minister as an indication of what is, very obviously, acceptable conduct to the MR2 regime. The conduct of this piece of national-dress-driven mobile shelter didn’t so much as raise a whisper from the Unofficial (MR1-led) Opposition, one only too ready to raise its collective voice both in and out of the House and even physically assault their political opponents in what they claim is “the defence of all that is sacrosanct in the land of 2500 Years of Buddhism.” A little odd, you might say, until you hark back to the days of the MR1 regime when this mini-mobile-home used to be treated to free plane rides by you-know-who when the national carrier was primarily a mode of personal transport of our Emperor.
Then there is that unmentionable of senior cabinet rank prepared to destroy Kandy’s single forest reserve (Udawattekelle) and/or build a bridge (lengthwise) over the Hill Capital’s lake in order to curry favour with a Diyawadane Nilame who, together with the Ambassador-to-the Maldives and Officer-in-Charge of the Northern Province economic development father, were complicit in the activities of MR1, and whose opposition to opening the now-closed road by the Dalada Maligawa in order to maintain the peace and tranquility of his personal residence has taken precedence over dealing with the primary cause of Kandy’s air pollution that several years ago was measured at four times that of Colombo. After all, the health of the “ordinary” citizen hardly measures up to the chosen comfort zone of one who achieved his position by time-honoured methods!
There is also the matter of appointments by the Health Ministry that I have referred to previously where brazen acolytes of MR1, prepared to place their Hippocratic Oath on the back burner in order to “succeed in life,” have been placed in positions of trust and responsibility by a Minister of Health who, in his other garb as government spokesperson, has voiced contradictory nonsense befitting one with particularly ill-fitting false teeth.
These are but small pieces of the larger reality in Sri Lanka today which extends into even the sports of cricket and rugby, where those who have distinguished themselves as unprincipled and brazen pandankarayas prepared to resort to violence in defence of their patrons in the previous regime continue to enjoy or have been elevated to positions of significant eminence under the current dispensation.
On such a crass foundation is the life of this country being conducted by a government that achieved power with a pledge to do just the opposite.
Back to Avant Garde. It is now a matter of record that at least one senior member of government, in conduct far from exceptional for him, derailed the investigation into what was beginning to look like a scandal without precedent in Sri Lanka’s history. Anyone interested enough can trace this “legal luminary’s” career from the point of his resignation from the top position in his profession subsequent to a visit from Mahinda Rajapaksa, the circumstances of which resignation neither his professional colleagues nor the subservient media of this country investigated in any shape, form or fashion!
Let me state the obvious one more time: none of those who opposed the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, sometimes at considerable personal risk, unlike a seeming majority of the MR2 lot, did so with the intention of replacing one lot of looters of the public purse with a similar lot simply parading under a different banner. One would be safe in saying that there is not one person who voted out Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cronies who did so in the expectation that they would be replaced by their clones!
We need a third force because despite the lingering integrity of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe as individuals, neither this country nor its citizenry is prepared to countenance the insurance-buying and rent-seeking that is continuing apace. If this sounds like a “call to arms,” so be it. However, from many of the responses I’ve had to material I’ve written, there is a substantial informed, intelligent and principled element of our society who seek relief from the current malaise.
We need to rally a wide spectrum of those who simply demand a return to the rule of law and equity without “special considerations” for anybody, be they from among the ranks of this regime or the one preceding it. This is a banner that those believing in principled governance can easily rally around because it is inclusive of all those of differing political and economic ideologies. It was such a coalition that drove out the most violent and corrupt regime that this country has ever experienced and it can, again, come together to cleanse the new stable.