By Emil van der Poorten –
I have to admit the provocation for the (corny) title of this piece is the time of year and the need to take yet another look at the year just drawing to a close behind us.
By the time you read this, Santa would or would not have descended down your (metaphorical) chimney and placed gifts in abundance or the proverbial piece of coal (in our case an anguru kaella probably) at the foot of a metaphorical tree.
But what of the time between such an event last year and the one this year?
Let’s try to do a little summing up.
We went through the last days of 2014 with excitement in the air at the prospect of a very real chance to be rid of the first real dictator we had encountered in our modern history. We began the New Year by dumping the head of the most violent and corrupt government we had ever experienced.
However, the flurry of excitement that followed the January 8th overthrow of the Rajapaksa Regime has steadily evaporated with many indications that its replacement was seeking to live up to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s pithy condemnation of the parties to the “right” of it – Unuth Ekai, Munuth ekai,” six of one, half a dozen of another.
If one were to understand the local (English-language) media, Sri Lanka had become one big barbecue: all kinds of prominent members of the recently-dissolved royal court were being “grilled” here, there and everywhere particularly by a newly-established tribunal established under the aegis of the Police department. One was entertained – if that is the word – by veritable legions of the “important” of yesterday being escorted into these places in which justice was allegedly to be dispensed. What distinguished these from the “common or garden” variety of (alleged) criminal was the fact that the latter invariably sought to avoid being recognized by the video or still camera and, therefore, the wider public, by covering their faces with whatever was most easily and quickly available: a hand, an arm or a handkerchief.
On the other hand, the politicians who held, literally, the power of life and death over us ordinary citizens till very recently, displayed a totally different demeanour as they entered these places: they grinned from ear to ear and waved their arms triumphantly like little Caesar’s entering a recently-liberated Rome, notwithstanding the manacles that sometimes hindered such an exercise! This was particularly true of those entering the place of interrogation of a brand new commission that was certainly not named by a public relations expert with a feel for such things as easily comprehended titles. It was called the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Massive Fraud and Corruption (PRECIFAC), even the acronym being of jaw-breaking proportions! Interestingly, the “Massive” part is missing from the acronym and some speculation has it that this is a Freudian slip However, it could simply be another concoction by some innovative local journalist, a breed not completely alien to our Sri Lankan experience where North American scandal sheets at their peak (or nadir) weren’t in the same league as some of our “black and white and read all over” productions for public edification!
PRECIFAC seems to have passed its “best before” date insofar as entertainment value is concerned and has begun to look like some tired old sitcom with a bunch of B-status movie stars.
That “Commission” though, probably epitomizes the current Sri Lankan condition where there is a definite sense of déjà vu in the matter of the apprehension of those who’ve burgled the public treasury and stashed away their loot either through money-launderers whose identity is a matter of public knowledge or ensured that their “takings” have been deposited in dollars and other currencies significantly more valuable than our rupee, in jurisdictions where such dirty money storage constitutes their very economic lifeblood. Of course, our lot go through the (silly) motions of asking the governments of the countries in which this blood money is stashed to reveal all, an exercise that would make the term “ludicrous” a generous one if applied to it.
There is the occasional bleat from within a government that puts the proverbial Curate’s Egg to shame in that one would be very hard put indeed to find any “good parts” in it! Do I even have to allude to the flotsam and jetsam that has been recruited into a Cabinet whose proportions and percentage of dead wood could well challenge the abomination of the Rajapaksa years?
That, my friends is the “engine of progress” that we seem destined to ride into 2016!
To carry the rail analogy a point further, one has to admit that there might be a little speck of light at the end of our national tunnel if we are able to sustain day-to-day life minus the White Van Culture encouraged under our recently-deposed Emperor. Let me go on record, for the benefit of those who feel that I am unduly critical of the current regime: the fact that people are no longer “disappeared” as a matter of routine or threatened, in one way or another, into shivering silence is progress, even if it is akin to being able to crawl out of a virtual cesspool of violence into a desert of Saharan proportions.
Demands for unpolluted drinking water are no longer met with an assault-rifle response.
People do appear to be free to launch protests (as long as they seem unlikely to be effective!)
No matter how desperately one casts around it is very hard indeed to find tangible signs of anything resembling real progress. However, that said, we do have the opportunity to organize in such a manner that public servants of every description – and I put every damned elected politician in that category – begin, at least, to understand that theirs is not simply a life of privilege at the expense of those who, literally, put them there but one in which the primary considerations should be responsibility and accountability to that public.
Pushing that particular envelope could well be Priority No. 1 for all of those seeking to take Sri Lanka in the direction in which we seemed headed more than half a century ago and from which we have deviated thanks to some very unscrupulous people called politicians.
How about that for a New Year’s resolution?