Colombo Telegraph

Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

One cannot but be fascinated by the material appearing in the media, particularly information released by The Regime’s disseminators of propaganda.

We had one poll, conducted within goodness knows what parameters, that said that Mahinda Rajapaksa had in excess of a 90% approval rating.  Yet, even in elections in which the opposition parties have, according to the same sources, been decimated, the total opposition vote has not reflected that “fact.”  This kind of reporting is typical of the local media which, by and large, has proved to be among the world’s most supine in their efforts to curry favour with those who wield power. Pray tell me how you arrive at a 90%+ approval rating by the population at large when the enthusiasm for a “hugely popular” President is demonstrated by a 60% turn out at the most recent polls and the President’s party, leave alone garner over half that vote, does in fact poll barely over 50% of the opposition’s?  The math just does not make sense unless, of course, you were tutored by an academic of the quality of Dr. Mervin!

And talking of minorities, what about the minorities that are engaging in protests against the anti-social conduct of this lot, risking life, limb and incarceration?
We have the university students launching protests left right and centre, their leaders, literally, at risk of paying the ultimate price, against the chaos that is post-secondary education in this country.  In fact, the Inter-University Students’ Federation have claimed that the most recent deaths of two of their leaders was not, as claimed, as a result of an “accident” and one newspaper reports that a vehicle had “swayed” (sic) at them forcing them off the road and on to a post resulting in their deaths.

We have the Federation of University Teachers, foregoing their salaries in a strike that has already gone on for nearly three months, resisting legal manoeuvres to paint them into a corner and force arbitration upon them.  One must also remember that this strike is driven primarily, not by an “industrial dispute” about wages and conditions of employment but by the necessity for allotting an adequate portion (6%) of the national budget to education.  Efforts to classify this struggle as one purely for a wage increase have failed, though for how long the government will resist the temptation to cut loose their usual extra-legal response in a losing battle is something known only to the decision-makers at this time.

You have the parents of students, monumentally wronged in the “Z Score” fiasco and in the Grade 5 Scholarship tests, going to the courts, seeking redress of terrible wrongs and demonstrating their anguish and dissatisfaction in a manner that even our “national media” cannot avoid reporting.

You have the doctors launching one token strike after another in protest against their colleagues being assaulted by government politicos.

These are only some of the formal protests and withdrawals of labour that one sees. The servile media of this country does not adequately report what sick people are going through by virtue of totally inadequate facilities in the hospitals, by state-supplied sub-standard drugs, by a paucity of trained staff leading to the shutting down of entire hospital wards.  Note also that these are the most dramatic events in our medical services to which the occasional reference is made in the media.  Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that, when you are referred to a specialist in one of the major hospitals in your district, you’d better be ready to line up outside his clinic before daybreak or, literally, sleep outside the building until the numbers are given out to those to be seen in the morning.  And if you are unfortunate enough to be the forty-first on a day when the doctor is going to see forty people?  Tough luck, buddy, go home and come another day!

What about drugs and medications in general.  If, in the doubtful event that the prescribed drug is available in the medical institution from which you are seeking treatment, there is the very real possibility that it is sub-standard, thanks to some “higher up” being on the take in the matter of drug purchases for the state!  This, of course, makes for an interesting situation in which the patient takes the drugs prescribed and when his condition worsens hears, via the grapevine, that drug X is little other than coloured chalk!  “Average patient” has no one to complain to and if he or she does, how would they substantiate their complaint?  They will not have access to any testing system because if they do, they’d belong to the affluent class that can afford to buy name-brand drugs at astronomical prices. Remember that all of this is under a government loudly proclaiming its “empowerment of the common man!”

What has been referred to in the preceding paragraphs is what keeps emerging from the less-silent majority when our gutless media deigns to report such dissatisfaction.

Consider the “silent ones” – I shan’t call them “the silent majority” because that would be statistically impossible when 90%+ of the population has been described as being, to all intents and purposes, charter members of the President’s fan club and subscribing to the belief that he and his government are infallible!  The “silent ones” are in every village and town, bearing the brunt of an escalating cost of living driven to the levels it has by corruption and simple mismanagement.  Of course, thanks to the monumental lies of those issuing “statistics,” people are told that they are paying less for essentials and living a life of luxury in every village and town in the Miracle of Asia.

Some have asked why people are seeking to cross the largest ocean in the world in leaky fishing boats to get to Australia, selling all their worldly possessions and, literally, mortgaging their futures to do so. I am sure everyone believes the official explanation that “these are economic refugees, mistakenly, believing that there is a pot of gold at the end of every down-under rainbow!”  Simple explanation and if the interviewer insists on suggesting that things must be pretty bad for these people to risk their very lives on these perilous journeys, they are met with the suggestion that they must be out of their minds to abandon paradise on earth for someplace at the bottom of the planet!

At this point, let me emphasize the fact that I have only made reference to groups largely made up of the Sinhala majority.  I have barely mentioned the minorities except in the matter of the “boat people.”

What should and obviously doesn’t concern this arrogant outfit is that, at some point (inevitably?) what they choose to term as “infinitesimal minorities” realize that they have a common enemy and choose to make common cause.  While the concept of “critical mass” should have crossed the minds of anyone at elementary political science levels, it has obviously not occurred to this bunch or, in the alternative, it has only resulted in their readiness to fall back on a solution that was demonstrated in the Free Trade Zone of Katunayake or when the fishermen protested against the increase in boat fuel prices: the use of the gun to put down anything resembling dissent or resistance.

I have often been accused of being among the more pessimistic of columnists.  Suffice it to say on this occasion that it is hard to abandon that view of the Sri Lanka situation when one is faced with the national tragedy unfolding before a nation whose government’s only response is suppression of dissent and the dissemination of fabrications.

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