11 August, 2022

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Sri Lanka – From A Failed To Pseudo Mafia State?

By Vipula Wanigasekera

Dr Vipula Wanigasekera

Long queues of Tuk Tuks across Sri Lanka waiting for fuel may not necessarily be reflecting the real demand. Reason being the emergence of a black market where gasoline can be sold 3 times the real price so that the Tuk Tuks are not required to be on the road for hire.

That’s a mafia styled emerging black market at a time fuel prices have once again increased with no shipment in the vicinity. It is not a surprise then why not many Mercs, Audis, Jaguars and Beamers are seen in petrol queues, not to mention that some super luxury vehicles have a privilege to fill tanks from the refinery itself.

‘The Guardian’ 22 June reported Sri Lanka’s PM as saying country’s economy has ‘completely collapsed’. Sri Lanka is therefore a failed state which is generally defined as a political body that has disintegrated into a point where basic conditions and responsibilities cannot be fulfilled meaningfully.

Declining living standards of population is a clear indication of a failed state with the a) political and bureaucratic decisions being detrimental to development, b) erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, c) inability to provide basic public services, d) non recognition to interact with international community in a crisis situation, e) visible level of corruption f) unequal justice and lack of control over subordinates’ actions.

The autocratic style of Governance in Sri Lanka, though not called a mafia with white collars appearing in the fore front, had been in the making especially since early 200. The severance of the joint venture with Emirates is costing SriLankan Airlines an average of Rs 28 billion a year and these losses are inconceivable and are still accumulating. The good part of the country could have been provided with solar power with that capital lost over a decade.

Issuance of liquor bar licenses in a country that has one of the highest consumption of liquor, law makers running businesses with conflict of interest, permits issued for various activities like sand mining, privileges given to have the loans written off as bad debts by state banks etc have been open secrets.

Sri Lanka has defaulted on its debt for the first time in its history as the country struggles with its worst financial crisis since independence. Hamilton Reserve among the other bond holders, has filed suit in the Federal Court of New York Southern District citing possible reasons for Sri Lanka’s inability to pay the debts.

The IMF team has just left Sri Lanka issuing a statement that drastic restructuring may be required in the recovery plan which may not be in line with the political culture in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile thousands of casual daily jobs will evaporate and so will small time businesses in the near future.

Sri Lanka will have to depend on the big brother – India and other friendly countries for basic needs such as fuel, food and medicines. The credit lines so offered will have their own strings attached to them.

Shortages of goods have triggered rapid price escalations. The hardships of masses are conspicuous with long fuel queues (some collapsing with cardiac arrests in the long wait for days). A large number of farmers are languishing without fertilizer and some of them are in the constituency of the ruling family where paddy fields have gone dry.

Sri Lanka is caught up in multitude of issues to be called a failed state. The frequent changes in cabinet seats with the hope that someone will wave a magic wand, has not worked with the macro picture being bleak. The new PM, thought to be a ‘Messiah’ is yet to prove himself. He has so far been ‘describing’ the magnitude of the issues while the Japanese Government has mentioned that they cannot ‘trust’ Sri Lanka Government which is understanding.

It would have been desirable had the entire Government resigned and allowed people to elect a new Government. The grievance that an election costs nearly Rs 3b does not hold water. The loss of revenue to the Government after the blatant duty reduction of tax on the importation of Sugar alone is calculated as over RS 16 billion. Sri Lanka could have staged 5 elections with this kind of money.

The unsustainable debts, failing to go to IMF on time, forcibly holding the dollar, massive unfocused tax cuts after elections, arbitrary ban on fertilizer imports, excessive money printing, mismanagement as revealed in COPE and COPA parliamentary meetings, have resulted in the present predicament of the country bringing it to a failed state.

What is then a pseudo mafia state and is Sri Lanka heading towards that?, a question worth discussing. A mafia state is a system where the Government is tied with organized crime to a degree when politicians, government officials, the police, and/or military become a part of the criminal enterprise.

Having been coined by Alexander Litvinenko and the states that were been called Mafia states include Bulgaria, Guinea-Bissau, Montenegro, Myanmar and Venezuela.

The study by Anthea McCarthy-Jones elaborates how corrupt practices evolve into the almost complete criminalization of a state. This study traces Venezuela’s political trajectory and critical junctures laying the foundations for the mafia state.

In a mafia state, cash-rich individuals and criminal organizations take over valuable assets and will also engage in hostile buying of potentially up market properties and companies at low prices, not to mention the alleged wealth that is lying outside Sri Lanka and how politicians became staggeringly wealthy during their tenures.

Thousands of people who are laid off are then tempted to break the law. Unemployed experts in finance, accounting ICT etc tend to make themselves available to criminal cartels.

It may be harsh to apply this definition to Sri Lanka which has relative peace at present while Australians having their cricket tour. But the time may also be the calm before storm.

The credibility of the present Government is repeatedly questioned. In the past, killings and disappearances including Easter Sunday attack remain unresolved and most of them are portrayed in the protest area – Galle Face. Then the reported threats emanating from various quarters for journalists and social activists.

After 2019 elections, cancellation of Japanese light rail project, concerns on the tax reductions, agreements for the supply of Gas with improper procedures, paying for an empty shipment of fertilizer from China, all perhaps being tip of an ice berg, have attributed to a mafia style governance.

Adding more salt to the wound, release of prisoners on special pardons, convicts holding positions, involvement of nonmilitary personnel in security matters and open intimidations like ‘killing a crow and leaving a feature’ could well be interpreted as signs of a mafia state together with sprouting black markets starting from fuel dungeons.

The economic mutilation done by autocratic if not insane decisions, are not reversible for years. It is with utter dismay that the public is watching COPE and COPA proceedings in parliament and whatever that is revealed, the public knows that none of them will end up in a court of law. One law maker in the ruling party openly accused that former President’s secretary who was one time convicted and exonerated, was given a free hand to control both the treasury and the central bank!.

Though pseudo mafia governance in Sri Lanka has been in existence incognito for some time, life of people moved on with the economy holding at some resolute level prior to the pandemic.

The post Covid conditions began to expose corruption and mismanagement when the treasury ran out of money to pay the bills after losing a massive tax collection – over Rs 500b a year, in favour of businesses specially the ones which supported election campaigns.

Allowing an import oriented economy for decades, Sri Lanka’s foreign currency reserves have dwindled with the loss of foreign exchange from expatriates, exports, and tourism.

The investments on infrastructure taken from loans that are reported to be paving way for underhand deals for individuals, had not generated revenue like the iconic tower standing right in the middle of the capital, probably the biggest white elephant in Asia.

The mayhem of black May triggered by supporters of the state with the blessing of politicians and aftermath is history. And yet a question leaves among public why most of the perpetrators are still free while the whole drama is on tapes of CCTVs. The aftermath of houses belonging to politicians gutting down by fire is also to be noted, be it level of frustration or an organized way of vandalizing when opportunity arises.

Pseudo Mafia state therefore takes a form of pareto principle with a minority calling the shots whether they are connected to the Government or otherwise while the public has to go thorough enormous hardships and suffering.

It is said that unless some economic miracle happens, the volcano is about to erupt in Sri Lanka when helpless population across the country unleashes the unendurable agony caused by the deprived access to food, medicines, education and transport.

*Writer is a former Diplomat, Head of Tourism Authority and Senior Lecturer for Edith Cowan University , Perth

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Latest comments

  • 6
    1

    “A mafia state is a system where the Government is tied with organized crime to a degree when politicians, government officials, the police, and/or military become a part of the criminal enterprise.“
    Rajapaksas have been the HEAD of the mafia state with it’s subservient businessmen, journalists, Judiciary, and trade unions. Rajapaksas had been hoodwinking not only Sri Lankan citizens but also the Indians/Chinese/Americans. We want to see the END of the current Regime asap

    • 4
      0

      Gotabaya is a US citizen like the rest of his family and Sri Lanka is today a soft US-backed Military Dictatorship with US puppet Bondscam Ranil negotiating to sell of strategic assets – lands, ports, airports, power plants to US Vulture Funds like Blackrock and India;s Adani. Corruption has two sides.
      After Sri Lanka rejected the MCC and SOFA in 2019, US has launched a hybrid economic, cyber and maritime trade war on this strategic island and is blockading of Sri Lanka’s seas and airspace with cyberwar. US is blocking Oil and Gas Shipments from Russia which disappeared and causing the fuel shortage in Sri Lanka, and was behind the grounding of a Russia Aeroflot flight to destroy Sri lanka and isolate Russia. Sri Lanka needs oil and gas from Russia and US should stop Weaponizing the dollar which will crash soon too!The Aragalaya also staged by CIA using genuine grievances as in the Arab Spring protests disguises the fact that Lanka today is a US-Backed Dictatorship and hence failed State.!

    • 0
      1

      “It would have been desirable had the entire Government resigned and allowed people to elect a new Government. “
      On the surface, a very attractive and psychologically satisfying refrain. But does the author really believe that the new 225 will be magically different from what we have? They were elected by voters inured to handouts and nurtured to believe we need a 300,000 strong army to defeat potential terrorists, and that a “national airline” is an asset even if it loses 28 billion a year. I doubt that the voters’ mentality has changed one whit. When we see demonstrations in front of Mahanayakas’ temples, demanding that they keep out of politics, we will know the voters have changed.
      “Messiah’ is yet to prove himself. He has so far been ‘describing’ the magnitude of the issues”
      Isn’t that better than being told that chemical fertilizer causes cancer to cover up the lack of money?
      “Sri Lanka will have to depend on the big brother – India and other friendly countries for basic needs such as fuel, food and medicines. “
      Why not simply join them? It is the only practical and fast solution.

  • 6
    6

    The Aragalaya want Gota out, some of them want Ranil out as well, some want all 225 MPs out. The BASL want their proposals implemented, the SJB want one thing, the JVP another, both want an election. The CT commentators want all sorts of things. They all want Gota to resign.
    .
    If that happens they will all be fighting for power. In the ensuing chaos the only stability can be produced by the military. I think its far better to let Gota see out his last two years and let Ranil do his best for the country. The alternative will be a military Government.

  • 3
    0

    No doubt we have become a mafia state. Parliment is full of corrup “commis” politician and defaulters. Every single oppertunity is taken to misuse government funds. Experts are being advised by the politician on their feild of expertise, the classic example is the fertiliser issue. Now another issue regarding tourism promotion is cropping up, where the ‘so called” minister Harin want to have a road show to promote tourism. when tourist arrival is stagnent and doesnot improve you can promote the country. What is happening in Sri Lanka now is some thing quite different, tourist are not coming because the ministry is not providing the basic facilities to satisfy tourists needs . If tourist have to stand in a queue for fuel who will come, the best thing to do is for the minister to go to the airport and greet who ever is coming and make sure their needs are met than going on pleasure trips and having tamashas

  • 2
    0

    Having described in detail that Sri lanka is already possessing all conditions of a mafia state similar to Myanmar, Bulgaria, etc, which are mostly dictatorial countries, whereas Sri Lanka is told as a democratic country, being mismanaged by power-hungry politicians such as Mahinda, Maiththiri. Gota, Ranil, etc whose only aim is frauding the national wealth and cheating the majority of the people and now made it a failed state. How to recap the funds frauded by these crooks remain the main problem?

  • 0
    1

    “It would have been desirable had the entire Government resigned and allowed people to elect a new Government. “
    On the surface, a very attractive and psychologically satisfying refrain. But does the author really believe that the new 225 will be magically different from what we have? They were elected by voters inured to handouts and nurtured to believe we need a 300,000 strong army to defeat potential terrorists, and that a “national airline” is an asset even if it loses 28 billion a year. I doubt that the voters’ mentality has changed one whit. When we see demonstrations in front of Mahanayakas’ temples, demanding that they keep out of politics, we will know the voters have changed.
    “Messiah’ is yet to prove himself. He has so far been ‘describing’ the magnitude of the issues”
    Isn’t that better than being told that chemical fertilizer causes cancer to cover up the lack of money?
    “Sri Lanka will have to depend on the big brother – India and other friendly countries for basic needs such as fuel, food and medicines. “
    Why not simply join them? It is the only practical and fast solution.

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