By Thambu Kanagasabai –
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa acclaimed as un uncrowned king of Sri Lanka after defeating the Liberation of Tigers in the genocidal war with the assistance of 22 countries particularly from India, Pakistan and China as confirmed by his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa [Gotabaya’s brother] while he was on a visit to India in May 2009 is now facing an unpalatable deafening voices of protests emanating from every corners of Sri Lanka.
His Government crowned in 2019 is now sliding fast to be labelled as a failed state. His failures are accumulating in all fronts, economy, political management, human rights, rule of law, international relations and foreign policy. Though he inherited a mismanaged legacy from a lame Government run by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the then President Maithiripala Sirisena, his Government has also failed to take any meaningful steps to reverse and change the course with a better management of economy, efficient political management and administrative machinery. Covid-19 pandemic has also played its part in adding to the woes of the economy, particularly hitting the tourism industry, a major source of earnings and local employment sharing 5% of the GDP.
Some statistics of the current state of the economy are: for year 2021 out of 3.9 billions of dollars repayment only 1.3 billions has been paid leaving a balance of 2.6 billions to be settled before the end of 2021. Foreign reserves stand at 4.9 billions which is enough to pay for three months imports while foreign outstanding debts is 7.1 billions. Sri Lanka in order to settle the above debts has secured 400 millions from India, 1.5 billion from China and 250 million from the poor Bangladesh. The above outstanding indebtedness has led to the downgrading of Sri Lanka by Finch to CCC grade which confirms the real possibilities of default in repayment. To worsen this situation is the looming cancellation of the GSP+ concession by European Union when it meets at its next session. Also Sri Lanka is maintaining a deadly silence as to the implementation of 27 UN Conventions as referred by European Union which is the other condition of European Union to restore the GSP+ concession. Besides, European Union has also demanded the repealing of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] and replacing it with acceptable international provisions. It is far from certain that Sri Lanka will fully comply with these demands risking its political fortunes and future.
Sri Lanka is now scrambling for damage control exercises by initiating palliative and eye washing steps like promising to bring amendments to the dreaded draconian PTA without repealing as demanded by European Union. It is unlikely that this mollification will cut any ice with European Union as Sri Lanka’s past promises have always been just occasional to meet the facing exigencies.
In the political front, the Government also has failed totally to meet the expectations of Tamils, Muslims and even the victims of state oppression. It is to be noted that the draconian PTA is defended by the Government and let loosely against its political opponents and groups like the recent arbitrary arrests and detention of Rishard Bathiudeen MP, and his brother.
The simmering 72 years old ethnic problem is left untouched and remains intact growing for a blow up situation while paving way for the total isolation of Tamils and Muslims to search for alternative means. The much expected constitution is nowhere in sight and the hopes of Tamils that it would incorporate acceptable political settlement proposals appears to be like the dream of a dumb
The current Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down the agenda of Sinhalisisation and Buddhisisation but as a blessing in disguise for the Government, it has opened an unchecked and undeterred militarization in the state administrative machinery with military officials taking control of the civil administration positions and messly handling them with unquestionable inefficiency due to nil experience in administration and without proper interactions with ordinary citizens. Even Covid-19 vaccination program has been shifted to Army compounds and Army Barracks, discarding the health officials’ participation.
The President is also exercising his powers of appointments and promotions at his will and absolute discretion like pardoning convicted criminals and sending some of his dislikings to jails. In this respect, the statement of British Commonwealth & Developments Office in its Human Rights and Democracy Report is worth quoting:-
“The continued appointments of controversial military figures of war crimes to Government roles while civilian functions such as Secretariat of NGO’s were brought under the control of the Military of Defence. PTA has been disproportionately used against Tamils and Muslims. The Report described the actions recently taken by Gotabaya’s Government “As leading to democracy decay” like the passing of the 20th Amendment which extended judicial powers and powers over independent institutions to the President. Though this Report confirms the “Continuing deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka”, the British Government has so far not acted on this Report, not even censured Sri Lanka.
ITJP has published the names of six Rajapaksas holding ministerial posts and controlling 16 Government Departments and three Presidential Task Forces controlling the wealth and their management aided by a muted, meek and disunited nervous Opposition Leader and parties. President Rajapaksa’s high handed actions are let off with unconcern like the pardon and release of Duminda Silva, a convicted murder criminal discarding the prescribed procedures and appointing him as Chairman of National Housing Authority is an act of gross insult to all norms of justice, rule of law and good governance. After all, like the birds of the same feather flock together, all alleged war criminals aligning and assisting another criminal is not a surprise.
Gotabaya’s under mentioned acts of arresting and keeping in isolation the protesting Ceylon Teachers Union’s Secretary Joseph Stalin is simply an act of pure arbitrariness and naked usurpation of fundamental rights. With plummeting popularity and dwindling support of the general population, a lurking danger is a consolidation and concentration of powers and entrenching the family group on the legislative, judicial and executive functions.
Consequently the fabric of democratic functioning is being eroded and shredded with the following evils of good governance which are slowly and steadily enveloping the island:-
1. Dictatorial actions and moves
2. Nepotism, family control and rule
3. Bribery and corruption
5. Racial policies
6. Discarding accountability, justice and rule of law
7. Break down of international relationship
8. Disregarding UN and UNHRC and their Resolutions.
Another impending scenario is the slow and steady erosion and slicing of sovereignty of Sri Lanka by China which has already planted its feet in the South, West and North netting Sri Lanka under an irredeemable debt trap. With a trade deficit of 10 billion Dollars, Sri Lanka’s crumbling economy has to be saved and China has taken the role of Saviour, a Frankenstein monster which is coolly expanding its dominance in South Asia mostly playing the role of a Messiah.
To sum up, Rajapaksas and Company Unlimited is facing bankruptcy in politics and economy and a full redemption is like an oasis in the desert due to its mauling by six Rajapaksas.
However, there is no iota of doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has come as a blessing and has provided a golden opportunity for the Government of Rajapaksa’s to lock down the country militarily and politically allowing it to unleash unilateral and unquestionable dictatorial actions opening the passage for dictatorial governance.
In short, it is a Rajapaksa and Brothers Company ruling with unlimited liabilities while enjoying exemptions from all liabilities to the victims of all alleged crimes.
The statement of Pearl S Buck is worth quoting:
When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.
*Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [London] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka