By Emil van der Poorten –
If people think that urban models cannot be adapted to rural circumstances, I have an example that should dispel that myth quite conclusively!
The whole business of “Familial Rule,” with the active support of particularly less-savoury elements within the political firmament has constantly been thrust on the consciousness of the public of this country where probity and decency were considered the hallmarks of decent politicians in the years immediately following independence. Exceptions there were, even then, but that is precisely what they were, exceptions, and not the broad rule that they are today. In fact, what should have been exceptions have become completely a part of the ruling power structure that governs this country. Thieves, murderers, rapists and common-or-garden thugs have become part of the elite of Sri Lanka and at every level of government, it seems.
In the matter of the rape and pillage of the financial resources of this country, the only difference in rural Sri Lanka is that the sums of money changing hands and the books being “cooked” are not as considerable as they are where billion dollar construction contracts are involved.
The pity of it is that the ingenuity exercised could be employed in the interest of those both delivering the schemes as well as those who are the victims. However, the insurmountable impediment to such a state of affairs is that it will run completely contrary to a culture without equal in the matter of corruption in this or any other region of the world!
I have met and worked with a few people who, if they entered a room through a north door would not leave through the exit on the south side of the room unless they traversed the entire periphery of the room before doing so. The reason for doing this was not some eccentric need to check out the whole space but because they were, literally, incapable of going in a straight line. That seems to be the prevailing situation of which the Sri Lankan elector is a victim!
The guys who run our lives are so crooked that they could moonlight as corkscrews in the busiest bar in the world!
Recently, under active prodding by his mentor, the local Chief Politico hired the piece of equipment that seems a sine qua non in the matter of digging or moving any material on or immediately under the surface in the vicinity of roads – the ubiquitous backhoe. The first time was a backhoe owned, I was informed, by a buddy of the ruling politicos. I personally was entertained by the operator in a demonstration that raised very serious doubts about whether he should be behind the wheel of ANY vehicle. That, of course, was what little I saw of his activity because – and I have photographic evidence in support – the piece of equipment was emitting, literally, clouds of smoke that obscured it from public view!
A considerable time after that “going through the motions” exercise, when the sole access for several dozen families was again impassable, I sent an email SOS to the address of the Senior Minister who is our MP, together with pictures of the devastation. This resulted in another piece of comedy when all of about five metres of roadside drain was cleared by yet another backhoe. This was arranged differently, I was informed. The services of a local heavy equipment “training school” were enlisted for the purpose this time. One or several of the trainees were sent up our road on a backhoe and, as a part of the training for which they (the trainees) pay, performed this task which would, employing one worker and one mamoty, have taken all of an hour! The information available to me suggested that the local body’s books now reflect a payment to a commercial backhoe operator for several hours at commercial rates!
Is it any surprise in these circumstances that money is allocated for various “projects” each year, the year ends and very little, if any, of the work is commenced, leave alone completed? A little clue as to where the funds ended up might be the deficit that has to be bridged between the cost of an election campaign and the measly, official remuneration received by the successful candidate. “Someone” has to pay the political piper and it is, inevitably, that amorphous entity: the “public!”
This seems particularly bad in rural parts of this country because the people who live there appear to have resigned themselves to the fact that this is the way that things are and will continue to be done and that they will not ever have the power to change that state of affairs. “Monawa Karannada (What can one do)?” is the inevitable comment if one seeks to engage one’s neighbour in a discussion on the subject.
There has to be a breaking point in the tension that is building and the chaos that is accumulating. With a government that is determined not to permit the usual democratic opportunities for the governed to “blow off steam” that point will be reached. The question is when and its corollary is “Who will the poor and dispossessed of this land turn on in their frustrated fury?” I will repeat the obvious response to that question: it will be those without the protection of private militias to ensure their physical safety, it will be the middle-class of this land who have turned a Nelsonian eye towards what is obviously coming down the turnpike thinking, wishfully, that they will have something akin to divine protection from the marauding horde!