One man’s vainglory has become a nation’s death throes. In Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin comics, the diva Bianca Castafiore is heard to trill the following libretto from an aria misattributed to French composer Charles Gounod’s opera Faust in her shrill soprano timbre: “Ah, my beauty past compare; these jewels bright I wear”. This ghastly scenario of a grande dame admiring the decrepitude of grandeur can well apply to Sri Lanka – that one-time pearl of the Indian Ocean; now, however, left high and dry, strung out, and hung out to die on the noose of that infamous yet invisible satakaya (shawl) [invisible as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the only one of the second generation of political Rajapaksa brothers who does not don the said garment although the irony is not lost].
Last week saw several incidents of the knock-on effects of the cascading snowball that is the cutthroat economic crisis with smithereens of finance strewn amidst the wreckage of charred political faith and the smouldering cinders of broken humanity, which serve as a stark reminder of how scant worth life has become in this country: a son who was in a queue to pump fuel desperately attempting to revive his expired, three-wheeler driver father who was also in a separate queue in Panadura; a mother throwing her youngest into the murky bosom of the Kelani before unsuccessfully attempting to follow suit; and the daylight gangland killing in Wattala. These incidents and similar tales of woe reported from around the island and the surrounding waters teeming with migrants of destitution, are stark reminders of another lived reality of this wholly man-made disaster: that is that the much needed, yet long overdue, long term structural reforms (such as the re-imposition, new imposition and hike of a variety of taxes, and the elimination of competitive bidding in private power purchases [this may turn out to have less than desirable consequences unless the regulator, the Public Utilities Commission is involved in vetting the procurement process]) of the fiscal and legislative amendment kind have been at the expense of bringing about tangible changes of fortune, albeit only slight and negligible at this juncture, at the ground level, in the lives of those, rich and poor alike, standing in queues of one form or the other.
Yes, the country has heard for the umpteenth time, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ‘the worst is yet to come’ bit. But while this almost daily dose of slap-shtick (not slapstick) reality is anything but sobering and automatically sets in motion a societal gag reflex, at ground zero, it feels as if the authorities are playing a twisted Sadeian game akin to those debauches enacted by the gilded amoralites in filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò (that excoriating vision of power entombed within the circular hells of Dante’s Inferno, and played against the backdrop of the fascist death rattle of Benito Mussolini’s Italy), of saving the worst, instead of the best, for last.
To put it succinctly, since Wickremesinghe’s and the so-called multi party Government’s advent, although one cannot and should not expect miracles, nothing has improved in the here and now, and in fact, things have gone from bad to worse, and are getting worser.
In his maiden press conference, the latest Chair of the State’s liquefied petroleum gas supplier – Litro Gas Lanka Limited, whilst contradicting figures related to the supply of cylinders touted by the Premier, took his predecessor to task for not placing orders for the same upon negotiations and conditional agreements entered into with suppliers. New kid on the block, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera, on the other hand, whilst engaging in his own brand of Ranil-speak on the supply of fuel expected, could not however state for certain, despite being a Cabinet Minister, as to whether a particular State Bank (another had stated the previous week that they cannot) had permitted the opening of letters of credit for the import of the same.
This beggars questions on planning and the communication thereof, of the plan.
With regard to procuring essentials (fuel, gas, food, medicine, etc.) or credit lines, loans or grants, or concerning remittances, export earnings, the state of foreign reserves or tourism expansion, to name but a few, what the people want to know is, in the short run (measurable in months), what is the plan including schedule pertaining to the specifics of what measures are in place and in the pipeline, why (perhaps this is superfluous), from where and from whom, how much, and by when (timeframe). In short, something concrete, statistically speaking.
In Austrian-American director Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, the Castafioresque Norma Desmond, a pre-talkies relic, played by Gloria Swanson, refers to the audience as “those wonderful people out there in the dark”. On the collective right to receive information being implicit in the freedom of speech and expression, Supreme Court Justice Dr. Anthony Ranjit Bevis Amerasinghe, in Sunila Abeysekera v. Ariya Rubasinghe, Competent Authority and Others, observed that “Speech concerning public affairs is more than self expression; it is the essence of self government”, and noted therefore the importance of possessing “adequate and reliable information” in order to “make an informed and educated decision” of one’s choice. One only has to add timeliness to complete the order of things.
How long will “those wonderful people out there in the dark” remain so: “wonderful” and “in the dark”.
If the events of 31 March (Mirihana), 19 April (Rambukkana), 9 May (island-wide) and the latest epidemic of protests and violence (both petty and deadly) are any measurable indicators, the stability of peace and harmony in the country, regardless of any future imposition of a state of lockdown or curfew, is frail, precarious and volatile to say the least, with hate, lawlessness, mayhem and carnage, only a Guy Fawkes and a cataclysm away.
It is wise therefore for the President, the Premier and the Government, already on thin ice, to not tempt fate. Planning now and telling now is planning ahead.
RBH59 / June 20, 2022
Short Term Plan, Long Term Communication
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
In Parliament very good speakers communicators they have two mouth and one ear less listing still pointing fingers to other they cannot solve the basics of the people even for short term after months of disscussion. and unregognized in front of ther world.IMF is after
matters and facts. not guesssing information.
Naman / June 21, 2022
“ nothing has improved in the here and now, and in fact, things have gone from bad to worse, and are getting worser.”
Still the Interim Government is trying to suppress the peaceful protestors requesting a RADICAL SYSTEM CHANGE. The President with all powers should be abolished asap.
The Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalists should recollect ALL THE SINS they have committed to their own citizens both Singhalese (during JVP insurrections times two) and Tamils during the liberation STRUGGLE. Tamils in North and East are still being subjected to differential TREATMENT. We need a NEW CONSTITUTION that guarantees the rights of the minorities. This should be mandated by IMF/World Bank/Indian Government prior to financial HELP /Restructuring