By Sarath De Alwis –
In his famous polemic on morality and its place in human society, Trotsky said that morality is relative to each society, to each epoch, and is above all, relative to the interests of the different social classes.
So, the morals of our Prime Minister and the Minister of Lotteries and Foreign Affairs are different from the morals of this writer.
We made a terrible mistake on 8th January 2015. We replaced a tyrannical autocracy with a shameless clique that delights in moral hypocrisy.
With Mahinda we only had to keep our mouths shut. With the new bunch, to retain our sanity, we have to keep our minds shut. They think we are imbeciles. Probably they are right!
A Sirisena presidency with Mahinda as prime minister may not be a bad idea after all. In a fortnight this writer will reach seventy five. It is an age at which it is possible to forgive Mahinda for his undoubted trespass on some of our freedoms. It is far easier than reconciling with the brazen bamboozling we are subjected to by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who promised a million jobs and a Volkswagen plant.
The Bond fiasco commenced on 27th February 2015. Eighteen days later, on 17th March 2015 Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed parliament on the subject. Tanks to digital archives in this age, we can listen to him whenever we need to refresh our memories of those promising days and also to refresh his own recall.
Some extracts are reproduced. They provide an insight in to the integrity of the speaker at the time and in hindsight, an authentic measure of his subsequent performance.
“I must tell this House that there is something happening in Sri Lanka at the grassroots level. Change is happening. Instead of poverty, corruption and injustice people see hope of prosperity, good governance and justice. For, a decade they have faced the darkest of demons and impossible odds and as one people they have spoken in January for a better way. I now speak in this House on their behalf.”
There are no facts, only interpretations said Friedrich Nietzsche. The Prime Minster eloquently demonstrated his confluence with Nietzsche.
“As a result of past misdeeds, the Central Bank has now been forced to embark on the task of re-building their credibility and standing as the country’s most credible financial institution. This is no easy task, since the spin masters have turned the institution into a wasteland. They left behind a legacy of mismanagement and misrule. They have been adopting a system of private placements of bonds. The criteria they adopted allowed the Central Bank to cut deals with Primary Dealers. Rebuilding international confidence and credibility has become an uphill task. Who are the people who are responsible for this mess? We have may be a half a Trillion to a Trillion Rupees worth of commitments made on highway projects.”
It is natural for a leader to defend his decisions. But if arrogance prevents conceding error in the light of subsequent misery he forfeits his right to lead. The Prime Minster unreservedly defended Arjun Mahendran.
“When the Governor of the Central Bank was informed that over Rs.20 Billion bids have been received, he instructed the Public Debt Tender Board to select bids up to Rs.10 Billion. He did so in the presence of two Deputy Governors. The claim that the Governor interfered with the work of the Tender Board is not true. Thereafter the Tender Board submitted their recommendations, which were approved by the Governor without any changes.”
The Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has remained studiedly tightlipped with Minister Ravi Karunanayake cavalierly dismissing the startling disclosures before the commission of inquiry in to the bond scam. A company called Walter and Rowe, a subsidiary of the holding company of Perpetual treasuries, now under investigation has paid the entire lease amount close to Rs.9 Million for the Penthouse apartment that was used by then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and his family.
The silence of the Prime Minister and the defiance of the Foreign & Lotteries Minister tells us that this government is far worse than the one we had before.
Mahinda’s financial profligacy was terrible. Gota’s surveillance state was unnerving. True, Mahinda appointed his brother in law the Chairman of the National Carrier. May be he wanted to please his wife. But, he never claimed his playboy brother in law to be a wizard in commercial aviation as is the present case with the balderdash dished out about Suren Ratwatte, the brother of the Prime Minister’s advisor turning around the airline.
Mahinda did many things wrong. He had many faults. He deserved to be voted out. That said, we must be honest enough to admit that he did not regard the citizenry with contempt. Mahinda Rajapaksa was many things but not a humbug.
Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ravi Karunanayake should be held to account on what they have pronounced publicly. When we match their promises available on record, it is clear that they have embarked on a trajectory that will alter the public framework of what is left in our moral values in public life and public probity. Ranil and Ravi are in self-service and not in public service.
On 29th January 2015, presenting the interim budget of the first hundred days of the ‘yahapalanya’ this is what the future tenant of the Penthouse atop the Monarch Residencies told parliament. The ‘Yahapalana’ Finance Minister was the epitome of ethical propriety and probity in public life. This is what he said.
“The system of “Crony Economics” created a segment of the society which was ultra-rich enjoying a life of supreme luxury. They were flaunting not only their ill-gotten wealth but their muscles too. A mere two per cent of the entire population continued to prosper at the expense of others. What of the balance 98%. They were requested to tighten their belts way back in 2005 and they had to continue. Their families fell apart due to economic hardships, jewelry pawned, family heirlooms sold to ensure that home fires continued to burn. Some were facing abject poverty. Naval guards had to be stationed at the Matara Mahanama Samaraweera Bridge and at the Kaluthara Bridge to save our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters from jumping into river to end their lives, stricken with unbearable poverty.”
The Nilwala and Kaluganga continue to flow quietly to the Indian Ocean. The Ocean view in the interim has been so mesmerizing that the tenant paid a good one hundred and sixty million baksheesh to buy the damned penthouse outright. Our ‘mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters no longer jump in to those rivers as was alleged by the yahapalana financial wizard who promised a mansion tax on the wealthy. Instead they beat their collective breasts in utter revulsion of those who swindled their franchise on 8th January 2015.
Their revulsion is authentic. This is how Ravi Karunanayake prefaced his homily on good governance and financial discipline.
“Honorable Speaker, exactly 21 days ago, on 8 January 2015, the people of the country voted for a change in favor of Honorable President Maithripala Sirisena. They gave a clear mandate emphasizing that they desperately need a change. A change that goes far beyond party politics and individual aspirations to create a new political and economic culture in the country.”
Voila! There you have it. Indeed, we have a new political culture. It is a culture of entitlement that is practiced by the ruling political class.
Let us, for the moment, forget the Arjun Aloysius-Ravi Karunanayake nexus. The busy senior Minister saddled with weighty matters on affairs foreign and turning wheels of fortune in National Lotteries, will eventually appear before the commission of inquiry.
We will then learn of his version of the alleged transaction. The Prime Minister who is an extremely intelligent man must have had good reason to allocate the subject of lotteries to him.
Mr. Karunanayake’s grip on the lottery paradox should not be underestimated. In the ranks of the UNP, he is undoubtedly a master in the logic of rational belief. If you buy one ticket, your chances of becoming millionaire remains intact at least until the final draw! So forget the nexus between the primary dealer and minister.
Let us focus on the penthouse. Therein lies the ‘yahapalana’ tragedy. Power does not only corrupt but it seduces the wielders of power. An official residence was well within the perks of a cabinet minister. Then, why a penthouse? What is a pent house?
Cathy Ericson in realtor.com tells us what a penthouse is. ‘If you’re lucky enough to live in one, it means you have arrived. The very word “penthouse” denotes luxury and exclusivity. It is a ‘deeee-luxe apartment in the sky.’
We live in an age of images. The story of the rich and the powerful, in this case the political class is a story based on lifestyles and self-perception. A penthouse is synonymous with opulence and luxury. It appeases the desires of those hell-bent on self-indulgent, fast living.
A fortuitous coalition elected President Sirisena. A power hungry cabal came with that territory. Arjuna Mahendran was made Governor of the Central Bank well before the 19th Amendment was negotiated with a hostile opposition by a minority government. A hedonistic lifestyle in a penthouse atop a sky scraper next to Temple Trees was well within the logic of rational possibilities of a grand lottery. The 8th January 2015 election was a lottery. The people lost. Someone ended in a Penthouse. It was as easy as a walk in the park – a Global Park.