22 October, 2020

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Mattala As A Metaphor For Sri Lanka’s Predicament

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

The ongoing saga of the newest white elephant of the Rajapaksa Regime shows no sign of ending.

The most recent scandal is about the monkeys being electrocuted by the high tension power lines serving the airport and the fact that, each time this happens, the power supply to the international airport is affected providing, as can easily be imagined, a significant safety hazard for planes coming into or leaving that facility.

Not so long ago, when the power lines serving our neck of the woods were installed, the electricity didn’t flow along the (un-insulated) cables for quite a while because the political-powers-that-be, while they weren’t waiting upon an astrologer’s prediction to throw the switch, had to try and milk some partisan political benefit from it by tying it in to an upcoming election.  In the interim, the monkeys in the neighbourhood discovered that, not only did this provide a highway for their peregrinations, it also lent itself to fun and frolic on “the high wire!”

Alas, the day did arrive when the power was turned on!  What ensued was random interruptions of electricity supply (fortunately during the daylight hours only), each time a macaque chose to commit (unwitting) suicide using what was meant to be our power supply!  Every occasion of such hara kiri was accompanied by a loud “pop” and the power going off until someone from the Ceylon Electricity Board arrived to turn the “breaker” back on.  Thankfully, this state of affairs has, to a large extent, abated as the monkeys wise up to their new existential reality!

I suppose that, sooner or later, the langurs of the Hambantota region will also recognize their new Rajapaksa-driven “fact of life.” They will then stop killing themselves and interrupting the supply of electricity to the newest addition to the list in the “Debacle of Asia.”

However, it is not this newsworthy tidbit that constitutes the entirety of the Mattala Airport being a metaphor for the political reality that we all have to suffer under.

To begin with, there was no economic imperative for the enormously expensive attempt at establishing an international airport in the most sparsely-populated part of Sri Lanka.  The possibility is that the facility, which was preceded by a harbor and cricket stadium among other initiatives in Sri Lanka’s arid zone, is that someone watched Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” once too often and took his statement that “If you build it they will come.”  An unswerving belief in this proclamation is the only logical explanation for the Rajapaksa “development” extravagances in southern Sri Lanka, the airport included.

The fact that the pursuit of a similar (paraphrased) “If you name an airline after the President, everyone will clamber on board,” has proved to be little but a recipe for a haemorraging of Sri Lanka’s economy has not deterred an arrogant and monumentally stupid Rajapaksa Sycophancy bent on doing anything to maintain their courtier status.  A cricket stadium that very nearly totaled the finances of Sri Lanka Cricket and a harbor that, despite all the cajoling and blackmail, continues to be “underutilized” obviously meant nothing to a Royal Family and its courtiers intent on helping the former indulge its every whim and fancy.

Mattala, every step of the way, has been nothing short of a disaster.

For starters, the reports of no environmental impact study being done prior to this massive construction being started, gave a clear indication of yet another display of arrogance that was simply “in your face” for anyone having environmental or other concerns about this multi-billion dollar project.

At the first hint, if “hint” is the word, of a serious avian hazard to aircraft in an area famous for an unequalled wealth of migratory bird life, the suggestions of a retired Director General of Wildlife appeared, indicating that the “solution” to the problem of “too many birds” in the vicinity of the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) was to remove what attracted them – water.  A very interesting suggestion coming from an ornithologist who, literally, re-named many of Sri Lanka’s birds in a field guide which has their English names (many of them his re-named ones), the Sinhalese ones (many of which I could not have confirmed by local – Sinhalese – villagers), and without the Tamil name for even one of the birds in his otherwise-encyclopaedic tome!  One cannot but connect some philosophical dots between the tenor of that omission – which not even ornithologists in the days of “Empire” were guilty of – and the current regime’s policies.  Talk about “Birds of a feather….!”

And if the firestorm subsides to some extent in the coming months, it will have a rather simple explanation – migratory birds arrive, in their hundreds of thousands at the end of the year and return to their northern hemisphere spring nesting grounds in the first quarter of the next year.  They arrive with the North East Monsoon and depart with the South West Monsoon.  This means the bird population in the Hambantota area will drop enormously in the next few months.

However, the problems with terrestrial fauna will continue year round because they don’t have the luxury of departing the Rajapaksa Paradise for northern climes but are stuck with the herd of white elephants in and around the Rajapaksa fiefdom which they happened to populate long before that family came into residence!

Electric fences might deter elephants and the larger ungulates, but it will, inevitably, force them to seek other pastures for survival.  Possibly, the cultivated lands of southern farmers don’t you think?  As for the proliferating pea-fowl population that has exploded over the last few decades, short of some sort of netting, you are not going to be able to keep them away from the grassy areas that, without exception, border airport runways, with the electric fences already being built.  And they do fly high enough to be a hazard to a landing aircraft, particularly when they are significantly larger than the gulls that have been sucked into jet engines with disastrous results!

Not to labour the point, all it will take is one accident to have Sri Lanka labeled with yet another “first” – the land where passenger aircraft with tourists on board have to compete with elephants, ducks, gulls and pea-fowl for landing rights – a new experience for sure but a debatable one in the matter of how much of a tourist attraction it will prove to be even if our spin-doctors can turn such occurrences into mythic tales of “dhandu-monara–yantharayas competing with jet aircraft for landing rights!”

What has happened in and around Hambantota epitomizes Sri Lanka’s status quo where stupidity is coupled with highway robbery and laced with a large dollop of sycophancy to present a concoction typical of what has now become typical of the land that was once the Pearl of the Orient; all to provide the Rajapaksa Sycophancy with an excuse to shout “Ehei Hamduruwaney” as they wend their way to a banquet bankrolled by the misappropriated wealth of a citizenry that sweated blood to create it.

It has already been suggested that the name of the place where the MRIA is located should be modified to read “Mutt-ala” because that first syllable provides a very apt description of the kind of people responsible for this unfolding tragedy.  For my part, I would suggest that particular attention be paid to the second syllable when that happens because it will enshrine the memory of the staff of life (water) being sacrificed on the altar of monumental arrogance and vanity.

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Latest comments

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    Emil van der Poorten

    If your argument is correct, you can’t have airports in Africa.
    You should try to save the monkeys by climbing the electrical poles yourself.

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      Vanadeva – If you want to display your ignorance and/or stupidity please don’t do it here!

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      Vanadeva:
      What a delightful combination of erudition and wit!

      With regard to climbing power poles, I remember a quip attributed to Sri John Kotelawela bewailing the dearth of tree climbers because they had all been elected to Parliament. Now, it seems, they write comments to web publications.

      As for African countries constructing airports in the middle of areas visited by large numbers of migratory birds, it would help if you could substantiate that claim. In any event, isn’t the “they did it first” argument getting a bit tired every time some monstrous or stupid act by those who rule the Debacle of Asia is exposed?

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        See Emil, funny articles like this at least bring you some reader response. Way to go!

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          Vanadeva:
          I am glad you see “humour” in a colossal waste of public funds to appease the vanity of some.

          However, you have not answered a simple question I posed: where are the African airports located in areas with large numbers of migratory birds?

          Rana:
          Couldn’t those you seem to admire construct an “oil tank farm” BEFORE the planes began to land rather than have bowsers deliver fuel to aircraft on the runway?

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            Emil, In any mega project there are few Phases. This Port and the airport funded by Chinese. After completed First Phase they are starting the next. Which phase comes first decided by both parties.

            MR or any other politician do things to keep their popularity. For Politicians the popularity among people is a crucial thing. People like to see what government doing for county and them. So politician cannot stay until the hole thing completed.

            Now the oil tank farm under construction and before the end of this year it will finish.

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              Rana;

              Bullockcart comes front of the bull only in HAMBANTHOTA, WEERAKETIYA??????????????????.

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        Emil, Is this the end of renaissance or dawning of a new era thanks to Asanga Seneviratne.

        Not before time!

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          Truth Seeker:
          Unfortunately, that is a question that you need pose to that arbiter of literary and journalistic excellence, Asanga Seneviratne.

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      Nice piece Emile!
      Oh me god Vandanava! So this is the Rajapassa thinking behind Hambantota airport for Mutts- Lanka = Africa and needs airports in scrub jungles and a corrupt military dictatorship.. which lands massive kickbacks from Chinese “aid” for the Rajapassa family sports and car racecbusiness..

      But Emile, you missed the fact that in addition to the massive debt to build the white elephant airport for mutts – the huge electric bill, related labour costs etc. to keep it operational- for 1 or 2 planes a week – is massive as are its maintenance costs which are passed on to the electicity consumers in the Debacle of Aisa!

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        Emil can rest easy now. He has got the seal of approval from the US embassy messenger boy!

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      Vanadeva, as long as your types of vanadevas, vanarajas,vanamenikas’are ignorantly living a blisfull life the vanapakashayan and vanaaththan will roam the Country with aimless deeds.We will be the vanna veddan of the future!

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      Vanadeva, even African countries to have greenery, beaches, parks, deserts and most importantly safari parks and wild life sanctuaries. They also have paddy fields and barren field etc…. they have yet to account for a Airport built across the path of migratory birds! and if so reports of closing up water holes, building fences and trenches to keep animals away.

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    A suitable solution is being worked out by Mahadanamutta and Golayas. Firstly close all the water holes and destroy the vegetation so that the animal species in their profound wisdom will go elsewhere.

    Secondly deploy Mig fighters to instill shock and awe in the feathered species so that by Darwins theory of evolution they will think twice before coming to Sri Lanka during the Nothern winter.

    Thirdly build more roads and railways so that all roads lead to Hambantota. Also allow people to import Ducatis and Lamborginis and do away with speed limits so that the can whiz across in next to no time.

    Forthly operate Sri Lankan and Mihin at a loss so that people can fly to Hambantota via Mattala at dirt cheap fare. If the losses are too high IMF will be forced to help restructure these airlines.

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    Emil, Any port or airport must have a oil tank farm. It is still under construction in Mattala. Wait till phase 2 and 3 finish and then talk or criticize.

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      What a pinhead’s comment. Man why was the hurry to open it then. You sounds like you built a house you move in but then thinking of cunstructing a toilet. Your original Idea was relieve yourself when needed at the next door, like Weerawanse used to do though now he has a menasion.
      You and your medamulana brains.

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        Sidda, You better ask that question from MR. Because your pinhead mind cannot understand about a mega project, what shall I do? Any mega project has few phases. And politicians while take measures to develop a country they must do things to keep their popularity among people.

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          Your MR GOT ALL MEGA THINGS in the brain and nothing, but looting Ideas from masses.

          FIRST MEGA LOOTING FINISH, SECAND LOOTING STARTED?????????,

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    If we can have an airport near the parliament may be we can get the wild life that regularly meet there to flee?

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    I think the quote “if you build,they will come”is true.People have an unerring knack of moving towards infrastructure just like bees being attracted to honey.Hambantota will be swarming with chinese workers settling down and marrying local women as the muslim traders did in our history.A new race will be born in the deep south called chingalas.The Mattala airport and the Hambantota port is actually for them,though our future generations will have to keep coughing and coughing out for the loans and exorbitant interest rates till they die and the powers that be have made their money and commissions on it.

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      Shankar… don’t worry if the airport fails as a commercial venture, it could turn out be a FORMULA ONE racing track and stadium. Will it not be another first for Srilanka. Be a little optimistic!..citizen Shankar!

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    Completely agree with the article. Perhaps the way to shut down this monstrosity is to campaign with the airlines on ethical grounds.

    This will destroy many wildlife parks around the area (Yala, Bundala, Kumana, to name a few). And that in turn will destroy the people in the area. Yes, Hambantota and neighboring Monaragala are two of the poorest districts in Sri Lanka and must be developed. A highway, I can understand the benefits. A port, may be (doubtful, given the small size of Sri Lanka.). But an airport to land the biggest aircraft in the world – ridiculous when it will only about 2 hours from the capital when the highway to Hambantota is completed.

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      Our present air port BIA, [ KIA] got another phase to start and blue prints done to cater to 12-16 planes.

      but constructing Hambanthota air port got more JARAAWA from Chinese contractors geting more debts to sri lankans.

      we no have obcection for Maagama Harbour as it should funtion as a transhipment and supply port to the main sea lane.

      it should have been constructed 30-40 years before, but not on loans to pawn the nation to chineese.
      but looting families never let that go from ther hands.

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    Rajapakse is blessed with what I call the “Anti-Midas” touch. Everything he touches turns to excrement.

    The Sinhalese people need to stop and think really hard about whether the same guys who gave you Mattala International Airport and the Hambantota Port are capable of out negotiating the US, UK and France as they would have us believe.

    Following Rajapakse’s unilateral declaration of victory in 2009, the masses in the south have been dancing like monkeys on a power line. However, at some point the US is going to turn on the power!

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    if there ever was an ‘animalistic’ “metaphor for sri lanka’s predicament” … its the ‘animal farm’ of george orwell…. but alas… not even did the critics recognize that the instigator of the cataclysmic political disaster was the “drunk and selfish” ‘Mr Jones’ (read: our colonial forefathers)

    we would do well to recognize the “mr jones” in us – privileged – all

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    The “environmentalists” who were scaring people that Colombo will sink if the World Trade Center buildings were built seems to have been very quiet about the destruction of the wilderness in the south. How political have these “environmentalists” have become.

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    More white elephants, Government borrowing pawning the future generation (the irony is every additional $ borrowed this government or regime need not pay, cos these debts become due only after 10, 15, 20 years and more and effective the future generation become indebted to the global powers). Sri Lanka is certainly taking the path of another Greece, Cyprus or bankrupt state.

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    One of the most enjoyable articles on the vagaries of the Rajapaksa regime I have ever read. Thank you Mr. van der Poorten

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