Colombo Telegraph

Some “Wonders Of Asia”

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

I have, from time to time, referred to the camp followers of the Rajapaksa Regime (MR1) who fattened their wallets and visited destruction and death upon those who were seen as enemies of their patrons. Those references have, generally, been “in passing.”

Also, given a grossly over-burdened judicial system in this country, it is understandable if the primary effort was to net the big sharks first and deal (or not deal) with the acolyte remoras that survived (very well!) on that body politic. However, what has clearly emerged in the past year has been that it has been an infinitesimally small number of even those sucker-fish who have been prosecuted while their host monsters continue to swim free.

One that fits into the category I describe was taken into custody for signing cheques worth hundreds of millions for the building of houses in Tsunami-ravaged parts of the country, houses that, up to now – more than ten years after that calamity – have not seen the light of day. After a period in custody- spent mostly in rather comfortable “digs,” at state expense, in one of those places referred to as a “private ward” in Sri Lanka’s premier public hospital, he was not only set free as the proverbial bird but employed, presumably at a salary “befitting his status,” by the very government that had taken him into custody in the first place! As to what happened to the very serious charges that would, in similar instances, have been laid for the alleged crime, suffice it to say that your guess is as good as mine. The indications, though, are that they have disappeared much as humans dragged into white vans did, not so long ago. The exhortation to “Put up or shut up” is surely deserving of modification to “Prosecute or exonerate,” in this context.

Incidentally, this individual’s defence at the time of his initial apprehension was something to the effect of, “I only signed the cheques. I didn’t know anything else about the whole business.” If this came from the office peon it might have been credible. However, emanating from a top-rung functionary with the kind of financial authority he obviously possessed, it seemed, at the least, a bit bizarre.

But “the powers-that-be” obviously bought his response because he has been re-employed by the very government – Maithripala-Ranil (MR2) – that took him into custody in the first place! “Only in Sri Lanka you say?” Well, we are “the wonder of Asia” after all, aren’t we? And this government might well have felt obliged to indulge in practices even more weird and wonderful than their predecessors in order to maintain that status!

The benefits reaped by sycophants in uniform are epitomized by one of the high-flying brand who, after his retirement from the wide blue yonder was appointed (and re-appointed) to head the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union as, in point of fact, some sort of “security” to the Presidential progeny while those delightful young men, all three of them, sought to treat the rugby field as some kind of Sri Lankan sports slaughterhouse. Before he reached this position that carried a plethora of perks, this gentleman (I use the term with generosity) reportedly built himself a holiday home on land that had been designated as part of a World Heritage Site in the Knuckles mountain range, using the resources of the service he headed to do so. Then, even the genuflectory local media ran a few “minor scandal” stories on the subject and the kerfuffle, such as it was, ended there. Before it did, it was evident that all the relevant authorities were aware of this brazenly illegal act but have not seen fit to do anything about it. Then or since.

The other instance I wish to refer to has far more sinister underpinnings.

It is of an individual who was an integral part of the well-organized campaign of total obstruction of information and deliberate obfuscation that was a feature of government policy during the final – “Nanthikadal” – phase of the conflict between the Sri Lankan security forces and what was left of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), obscenely titled “The Humanitarian Operation” by the man who only recently departed his Empire. The services provided by this man to the Emperor were of the most obsequious kind at all times but, nevertheless, distinguished by their ruthlessness, when required.

When the Tigers were finally vanquished on the battlefield and the surviving civilians “rescued,” among those “rescued” were the four doctors who had more than lived up to their Hippocratic oath under truly unimaginable conditions. Subsequent to a threat made against them when they were successful in getting their appeals for a cessation of incessant bombing attacks on supposed “no fire zones” out to the world, they were, on the record, threatened by the head of their service. While I don’t recall the specific punishment threatened, there was no doubt about the gravity of its nature given the impunity with which this man’s patrons were carrying out a variety of extra-judicial sentences.

I distinctly remember the time that these four members of the medical profession were presented to the nation at a media conference. This was after they had been held in custody for several days and to describe their appearance as “bedraggled” at the time they were put before the TV cameras would be to overstate their well-being. I understand that one of these doctors who chose to follow the most important part of their Hippocratic oath – “Do no harm” – has since had a complete breakdown that prevents him continuing in the profession to which he was, very obviously, a credit.

The upward progress of the medics’ boss in the matter of very highly-paid employment continued unabated, however, a reward, not only for his stout defence of the MR1 regime in the final days of the war but, perhaps, also for his conduct relative to post-mortems in the Action Contre La Faim execution atrocity, something which also refuses to go away thanks to its very enormity.

The first of these steps was into the office of an international agency located in one of Asia’s major cities. Here he proceeded to draw a salary (and perks) befitting an international civil servant, traipsing the globe at no expense to himself or his spouse.

However, like all good things, this phase of his upwardly-mobile career ended. The “official” reason advanced for his contract not being renewed was, I understand, that he was an “unwitting player” in some internal politics involving the government of his host country and Sri Lanka. However, that this man’s past might have emerged in the continuing, unrelenting controversy over the suppression of information and the carnage relating to the end of “the war” and associated events, his public pronouncements relative to them and the potential embarrassment that might have ensued if his contract was extended, are factors that could well have played a part in the parting of the ways.

However, talk about falling in you-know-what and emerging smelling of roses! On his return to dear old Sri Lanka, the man lands a job with a multinational drug behemoth in his home country with a monthly salary that exceeded what most Sri Lankans probably earn in a lifetime.

The man’s continuing easy access to the halls of power along which Mahinda Rajapaksa then strode is not likely to have hurt his chances of securing the position he did! After all, Sri Lankan society is no exception to the old adage that “it’s whom you know and not what you know” that matters and this man’s “connections,” very obviously, had commercial value, particularly in the most profitable of capitalist enterprises.

This employment being in the private sector, the chances are that, now that MR1 is out of power, this man’s bosses will find someone else that has similar entrée into the MR2 halls of power, suggesting that the adage I quoted in the previous paragraph can sometimes have its down-side!

Of course, this man, like the one I referred to earlier, may simply display his chameleonic skill and change his political colours and/or be simply accommodated, as have so many other square pegs from the MR1 regime, who now occupy the round holes of the MR2 regime.

As redundant as it might seem, I cannot resist the temptation of another old quote in closing: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

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