16 November, 2018

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The WEF & The Davos Propaganda

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

 Darshanie Ratnawalli

Darshanie Ratnawalli

The World Economic Forum (WEF) became front page news in Sri Lanka in January when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe decided to become the first Sri Lankan leader to accept an invitation to attend the WEF annual winter sessions in Davos Switzerland.

The Sri Lankan Information Department did some creative repositioning and produced the following factoid on the official government news portal of Sri Lanka – “This is the first time Sri Lanka has been invited to attend the annual meeting of the WEF, which has been held for over 40 years. Invitations are extended only for selected heads of government, heads of states, in addition to other business and industry partners.”

While it is true that WEF excludes states that are considered beyond the pale – North Korea was invited for the first time since 1998 in 2016, only to have the invitation revoked at the last minute due to a nuclear test they carried out– this was never the case for Sri Lanka.

We were invited before

Sri Lanka was invited in the previous years, says Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, the late Ossie Abeyagoonasekera’s son dispelling this little myth when I met him for an initial discussion at his office at the Ministry of Finance where he is an adviser. Courteous and friendly, Asanga explains his role in ensuring Premier Wickremesinghe’s presence at Davos and the previous regime’s apathy regarding all things WEF.WEF

Photo – Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“Ever since I got appointed as a Young Global Leader in 2012, I have been asking the government for some sort of representation at the WEF. I have been trying my level best, but there were other priorities and they were not keen. They were invited and I have spoken to them. I was adviser to the Foreign Minister at the time. I spoke with him. But for some reason they didn’t want to be part of it. It was a huge opportunity we missed, being part of it and working closely with all these people.

“The only world leaders not in the WEF are the North Korean guy and the Iran guy. In the last 10 years, I don’t know if Chandrika Kumaratunga has been to the WEF. Prof. G.L. Peiris has definitely been, he told me that. He has been to one of the conferences. But this is the first time we have gone as a delegation; the PM, Finance Minister, Trade Minister. I actually carried Prof. Schwab’s invitation to the PM. I gave it to him and he decided to go.”

Davos for political mileage

The new Sri Lankan Prime Minister decided to go in a delegation for the first time and explore opportunities at Davos. This is big. What is even bigger is the fact that the Sri Lankan Premier has tried to squeeze local political mileage out of Davos by creating the inaccurate impression that until his advent, WEF has kept Sri Lanka out of its annual meeting.

According to Asanga, the Davos main event is an inclusive, embracing and encompassing forum which has been severely under-utilized by previous Sri Lankan governments and the business community, social entrepreneurs and media personnel due to apathy and lack of awareness. From Sri Lanka’s private sector only Carson and John Keels have bothered to acquire membership.

The thought flits across my mind that if Carson and John Keels have half the marketing savvy of our PM they should run ad campaigns announcing they are the only Sri Lankan companies to be offered prestigious membership in the exclusive WEF community. It might even goad the rest of the private sector into queuing up for a place at WEF. Once, Asanga suggested WEF to one of the richest private sector entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka only to be asked, “If I spend a thousand, would I get that thousand back?”

Couple Protocol

It’s 17 February, two days after our meeting at the Ministry of Finance. Asanga is guiding me and my partner to our seats among the South Asian Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum who are gathered at the Board Walk, Waters Edge for a cultural event and dinner hosted by Sri Lanka Tourism as part of the first ever WEF event to be hosted by Sri Lanka.

Actually Asanga is conducting my partner to his seat while allowing me to tag along unacknowledged. Even though the correct protocol applying to two guests attending an event as a couple seems to have escaped him, Young Global Leader Asanga Abeyagoonasekera has spent the best part of his career chartering his course in the protocol infested waters of government service.

From his midlevel executive job in the telecommunications sector as a project manager, Asanga was propelled into the government service stratosphere in 2006 when he was appointed the chairman of the Ceylon Fishery Harbours Corporation by Felix Perera who was the Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic resources as well as Asanga’s father-in-law at the time. In less time than it took the civil society to shout ‘nepotism’, Asanga, 29, and the youngest public sector chairman at the time had transformed ‘his dowry’ into a Grade A Corporation.

Transforming Dowry

According to Asanga, Ceylon Fishery Harbours was a traditional corporation with a bureaucratic mind-set and a weak financial side. He charged in, bustled around being young and dynamic, blasting people out of their comfort zones and being fearlessly unpopular all in the name of awakening Sri Lanka’s fishery harbours which were either sleeping or damaged by the 2004 tsunami.

He introduced out of the box revenue generators such as commercial whale watching, a national dredging unit, built Sri Lankan tuna as a brand, enhanced HR, used IT to streamline operations and brought in Rs. 80 m revenue within a single year to a corporation which was recording up to Rs.60 to 70 m losses.

Back at the Finance Ministry, Asanga was telling me something which takes my breath away. “We went to Davos, the PM met everybody there, communicated to the rest of the world. The former government was moving towards more inward policies and all that. They never opened the door to the rest of the world. That was a serious weakness of the previous government. They were not outward at all; always inward.” “Even in the economy?”

I ask blinking and boggling inside. “Yes. Very clear,” Asanga replies masterfully, “I have said it several times. That’s why they were not involved in many of the global forums.” Asanga is being less than truthful here and I think he knows it.

Collection of essays

In Asanga’s book Towards a Better World Order, (Vijitha Yapa, 2015) a collection of essays that I edited, ‘Maritime Silk Road’ is mentioned on 15 pages while ‘hub’ is mentioned on seven pages. These concepts flowed into Asanga’s vocabulary from the previous government’s policy of opening Sri Lanka to the outer world.

Mahinda Chinthana, the previous regime’s policy document declares; “I am determined to make our country the centre of the Asian silk route once again taking advantage of its unique geographical location. I intend to develop it into a navigation, aviation, trading and commercial centre linking the East and the West.” Page 123 of Asanga’s book informs us that under the Rajapaksa government, Sri Lanka became the first country to back China’s initiative in reviving the 21st century Maritime Silk Road.

On page 129, Asanga asserts, “Whatever criticisms are made of the Maritime Silk Road, according to my view, this is a platform to share the development China has achieved over the past few decades.”

Chinese President’s vision

Whatever he thinks now, Asanga seems to have thought in June 2014 that President Rajapaksa’s vision of opening up Sri Lanka found its exact fit in the Chinese President’s vision of opening up China. Fitting neatly with – “Our President Mahinda Rajapaksa has proposed to make Sri Lanka a maritime hub. A maritime hub is a central location with a strategic importance for international trade and transport” – is the other piece of the jigsaw – “According to President Xi Jingping, the Maritime Silk Road aims to seize the opportunity for further opening up of China and to work with neighbouring countries to speed up the development of Asia”.

Asanga’s words in June 2014 shows a government with a long term and extrovert vision “The present [Rajapaksa] government, exploring the island’s strategic location at the centre of East-West shipping route, has initiated a plan to be completed by 2020 for development, improvement and promotion of the port sector.” According to Asanga, the Sri Lanka Port Authority during the previous regime “was proposing to make Colombo Port and Hambantota Port into free ports as means of attracting additional traffic and encouraging development of intermediary trade to increase opportunities for transaction with neighbouring countries.”

Rajapaksa Globalization

By negating the previous regime’s considerable globalization drive, now that they are no longer in power and just because they didn’t choose to take an active role in the World Economic Forum, Asanga is behaving like a text book illustration of the phenomenon that Noam Chomsky is attributing to WEF, “The dominant propaganda systems have appropriated the term ‘globalization’ to refer to the specific version of international economic integration that they favor,..”

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is heavily involved with the World Economic Forum. He is a Young Global Leader since 2012, the Country Chair in Sri Lanka for Global Dignity and Founding Curator of the Colombo and Kandy Hubs of Global Shapers. Young Global Leaders, Global Dignity and Global Shapers are all forums and initiatives of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Despite his tendency to accept Davos propaganda without discernment, Asanga has done good work in giving Sri Lanka its first ever opportunity of hosting a WEF event. The World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders ‘South Asia Bridge Initiative’ has been an interesting experience all round. Next week we will speak more about the Young Global Leaders who came here, how they interacted with us and the inputs both authentic and inauthentic that they received.

*The writer can be contacted at rathnawalli@gmail.com. Her work can be found at http://ratnawalli.com/ and http://ratnawalli.blogspot.com/

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    The previous regime did initiate the globalization process. In line with Xi’s one belt one road theory. No doubt. Yet we have to question if a family based system of governance was in line with the globalization process? Is a de facto family based system good for the political health of our country or any country? So maybe Asanga is excited that a more equitable and open approach to foreign policy is now being practice.

    I’ll tell you what though Dharshanie, whoever is right, there is a real good feel around Colombo these days that was absent for the last 3 or 4 years.

    • 3
      2

      Good one Dharashinie!

      Ranil and co. should make bringing back Mahinda Rajapaksa’s looted funds worth $3 billion to pay off the national debt.

      Davos is a road show for the rich and corrupt to invest their dirty money and ill gotten wealth by stealing from poor and wretched of the earth in SWISS bank accounts.

      Why do you think Suiss is the center of the rich man’s club? much of the third world’s stolen wealth by dictators and their cronies like MR, have been fattening the Swiss economy via secret bank accounts – same for London and New York! Irony is that these countries are preaching anti-corruption when they are the biggest culprits!

  • 6
    1

    Well, its widely accepted 20%-25% of the GDP is needed to manage the govt services.

    The revenue collection however was 14% when Rajapase was the treasurer. Now its gone further down to 10%.

    How can a govt conduct business without 50% of the needed revenue? Its all seems quite strange no one has picked up on it.

    The govt is already in a very difficult position with depreciating LKR and having to repay USD loans.

  • 5
    3

    Asanga is pilloried after being interviewed in the most despicable manner by this Rajapkaya sycophant. She quotes the chinthanya to justify the world vision of her hero the great moron who went after the Chinese thinking they love him so much and will keep giving him loans with kickbacks. Asanga’s father lost his life to the LTTE and was a maverick politician who served madam Sirimavo followed by the SLMP of Vijaya. He died during the same election that saw the demise of Gamini Dissanayke. What is not said is that even the Chinese got leary of Rajapakshe and started cold shouldering the bugger when they realized what an awful crook he was. They should have known considering the vast amounts of money their own state companies were asked to deposit into foreign accounts including the man in charge of the ports Priyath Wickrama. Nitpicking over whether or not S.L. was invited before is frivolous. The facts are not with this writer for it is R.W. who led an official delegation to the event for the very first time. The maritime silk route must be up in the sky in La La land. Because the Hambantota port is a big white elephant while the MRIA airport has more wild animals than humans around it and it is a laughing stock. Mouthing off words on a piece of paper and then using this paper to justify the global vision of Rajakakaya while trying to rubbish what is being done now is pathetic. Any moron can have visions of grandeur put down on paper. But it is obvious to any fool that they were unrealistic and amounted to nothing. What is more glaring is that every investor who wished to set up shop in Sri llanka under MR had to pay at least a 5 million bribe to the Rajapakaya family or else it was a no go. Now does the chinthanaya specify this too? Asanga had to get along and pretend he supported the moron by writing a book praising his policies. What else was he supposed to do? Remember the white vans who came for those who dissented. Ah! I forgot they were not included in the chinthaya.

  • 7
    7

    Brilliant stuff here – good wit! AA is a clown. Many thanks Dharshini Rtanavali. AA was them made the head of the Lakshman Karidigamar Institute which is now headed by a pretty face with connections. Lanka has exchanged one bunch of nepotists for another – under Ayahapalanaya!

    The triumph of nepotism and mediocrity and the marginalization of minorities, particularly Tamils with talent and qualifications in the Colombo Universities and Sri Lanka education system (outside north and east) is the name of the game in the Miracle of Modayas!

    Wasting funds attending the rich man’s club Davos meet in the Swiss Alps it turns out was an educational experience for Ranil only because OXFAM, an INGO, released a report that 62 individuals own over half the wealth of the world where the IMF and World Bank have legalized global economic INEQUALITY , poverty and corruption, tax evasion, and the looting of the public commons by their TRICKLE UP Policies.

    IMF and WORLD Bank turn a blind eye to Sovereign corruption and then force austerity on the poor! This is the IMF game exposed by Joseph Stiglitz long ago.
    Given the tanking rupee and Fitch down grades, Lanka should concentrate on getting back the wealth of the country – 3 billion USD that was looted by the Mahinda Jarapassa family and cronies -to pay off the national debt rather than running after IMF for loans!

    • 10
      5

      S.Modaya

      “Lanka should concentrate on getting back the wealth of the country – 3 billion USD that was looted by the Mahinda Jarapassa family and cronies”

      Mangala said it was in the region of $18 billion.

      Anyway, the child Darshanie Ratnawalli has been diversifying her trade in mudslinging from, erotica, fashion, history, myth pool, international diplomatic reporting, ….. to world economy.

      Watch out her next move, science correspondence reporting on Artificial Intelligence, black hole, CERN, might discover a mythological god’s particle, may argue Sundar Pichai was not really the CEO of Google (because he is Tamil from Tamil Nadu), …. gene editing,

  • 5
    7

    How much has our Economy improved since our PM Batalanada Ranil boasting about his invitation to Davos.

    Not much according to Moody’s .

    In fact we are in deep hit despite Batalanada’s bragging, if you take Moody serious.

    But then this young gun Asanga who seems to have converted to Yahapalanaya might spin something to project it to look like and smell like roses.

    But that wouldn’t stop Moody’s downgrading.

    Wonder whether the Yahapalana Treasurer found more mates with cool Billions to park in Singapore Mahendran’s safe.

    In case the NRFC depositors and other Foreign investors make a run on our Banks.

    • 6
      4

      KASmaalam K.A Sumanasekera

      “How much has our Economy improved since our PM Batalanada Ranil boasting about his invitation to Davos.”

      On the surface your question sound very good.

      However the right question should be, “How much had Clan’s economy improved over ten years of period when they were in total control?

      A friend from deep South told me he opened his mouth only to have meals.

      An acquaintance from North told me he had to get permission from whoever was in control to go to toilet, be it army, LTTE, EPDP, IPKF, ….. EPRLF, ..

      Do you see any qualitative difference now?

      You should realise that freedom of speech is far more important than eating and defalcating.

      • 5
        3

        Dear Native,

        Yu are right… mate.

        Your Yahapalana mates are defecating our 2500 year old Land for sure….

        • 4
          3

          KASmaalam K.A Sumanasekera

          “Your Yahapalana mates are defecating our 2500 year old Land for sure….”

          This sounds like another of your good invention. Before Yahapalana did the people of this island take special substance after every meal to degrade whatever left in their stomach, for the previous 2500 years?

          You should sell this stuff to NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), ISRO, China National Space Administration (CNSA), Roscosmos State Corporation (RSC), and would be useful to astronauts are planning to travel to Mars, International Space Station and beyond.

  • 2
    0

    We must all cheer the efforts of the Fragrant One as she transits to the drab realities of the world we lesser mortals inhabit. That said, the article meandered along, low on actualité, high on observation. Young Asanga is a good example of the many sprogs emerging into the big world, high on enthusiasm short on etiquette. It is obvious that there is room in Colombo for a seminar on good manners, and many who aspire to higher positions would do well to swallow their pride and attend one.

    Davos and the WEF is in truth a multi-tier club. There are those who come to see and be seen. Those who come to talk and, to listen. And then, there are those who understand what is being talked about, and are afforded the benefit of an explanation when the going gets tough. The benefits we brought back flourish in the minds of those lucky to enjoy their sojourn in that charming alpine resort.

    AND, if Batalanda Bertie wants to keep the flag flying, Asanga and his acolytes will jump to it. Harmless fun! Just smile and enjoy the canapes.

    • 5
      0

      Spring Koha

      The child has been trying very hard to get into elite clubs without success. She doesn’t understand she has to fit in with the club’s Norms.

      Our economic pandits have not yet shown any interest in “The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), This is going to be the biggest trap that will be used indirectly to control trade, investment, …. globally.

      Will you be spending some time looking into this agreement (negotiations not yet concluded nor signed) and read out your warning enabling the people to start worrying about Euro US conspiracy?

      • 4
        0

        Native Vedda

        The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are both in the process of incubation (that is, the parties who stand most to benefit are checking that every clause is fool proof before they screw the unwary). Notwithstanding, resistance has built up amongst the most vigilant. We will be affected when these ‘partnerships’ inevitably come into play. Even sooner if a Republican President takes office next January. But, I see no visible concern in Sri Lanka. We usually respond only when the shit piles up on our doorstep. Perhaps the powers that be have started the ball rolling to look after our interests, but I wouldn’t put my meagre pension on it. After all, our ‘pundits’ who bravely said that we can manage without the GSP are still working on trying to get that one back.

        • 2
          0

          Spring Koha

          Thanks.

          “We usually respond only when the shit piles up on our doorstep. “

          It is usually after the stuff hitting the fan.

          ” Perhaps the powers that be have started the ball rolling to look after our interests, but I wouldn’t put my meagre pension on it. “

          I agree.

          ” After all, our ‘pundits’ who bravely said that we can manage without the GSP are still working on trying to get that one back.”

          It’s the usual little islanders stuff,

          “we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
          we shall fight on the beaches,
          we shall fight on the landing grounds,
          we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
          we shall fight in the hills;
          …….
          ………..”

          They still do, …..

          Do you know whom are they fighting against?

          Perhaps their own shadow.

          Are you privy to any off the record briefing on the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement (ETCA) with India?

          If you do please share them with us.

          • 2
            0

            Native Vedda

            I wish I could say something new on ECTA but I am not privy to anything except what you all have read and marvelled over – to date. But the more I read, the more I think of a story of my wise old grandma related (may the dear lady Rest in Peace).

            Once upon a time, in a farmyard faraway, a hen and pig decided to go into business. They had heard the farm hands always talking about breakfast so, they hit on the brilliant idea of going into the breakfast business. The hen said I will provide the eggs, and you, piggy, could provide the bacon. With that my dear grandma stopped and gazed wistfully into the distance, and we young ones who were gathered around were left to marvel, once again, at the wisdom of elders.

  • 6
    1

    Good thing Valliamma has given up on archeology. She was digging too shallow. Now she is titillating with her partner in economic forums. The whole exercise is to pour shit on an unknown called Assanga whose book of great thoughts she had edited. Must have had a break-up to justify such shit-pouring after going so far as to edit his book. MR, we are told, was opening up by participating in the Maritime Silk Route. For this he was pawning his motherland to the Chinese and pocketing some of the pawns as well. He was a clever crook. Valliamma seems all in praise for the crook. RW is reversing it by pawning the country as Clever Dick did, in the more traditional way. All this is in realisation that the Thrice Blessed Land can never make it on its own. It is a land of fictions. The only issue is who is the better person to mortgage the country with – the Chink or the Yank and the Injun? That is the great question. Under MR, it was the Chink with a percentage going into his pockets. For RW, since his ancestors had taken enough into their pockets, maybe he will pawn without taking too much into his pocket unless M3 wants a piece of the cake. Sri Lanka will remain a nation of beggars, with one group maligning the other as to whose servitude the rest of us should be in. When all fails, their is the bogeyman, the Tamils and the Muslims. They are the ones who stop the great Sinhala nation from greatness, not the innate stupidity of the Sinhalayas.

  • 1
    1

    PS
    Sorry
    “Chink” is a rather racist term that is avoidable.

    [Chink (also chinki, chinky, chinkie, or chinka) is an English-language ethnic slur usually referring to a person of Chinese ethnicity.[1] Use of the term is often considered offensive and has garnered a great deal of media attention.]

    If pawning is the word Thee is no chance that it is as “Clever Dick” (you mean Yankee Dick) did.
    JRJ disliked India. Ranil cannot afford to upset either India or China as we have sen thus far.

    • 0
      0

      Point taken. Chink is racist as is Yank and Injun perhaps. They are from Western (Dell) comics we Sri Lankans of a certain generation used to read. Injun of course meant Red Indians not our neighbours.

  • 0
    0

    I would like to commend Darshanie for getting over the Lions, Nagas and Yakku.

    At the same time I wonder what triggered the deviation. Could it be due to fall from grace of MARA.

    Any way D.R knew she cannot return to CT with another sexually explicit story about coming to union of a Lion and a she devil (Yakshaniyek)

    But this one may not get the response D.R is expecting to fulfill her senses, if you know what I mean !

    • 0
      0

      Ay’up.

      Sexually explicit? That is usually in the mind of the reader.

      We are the readers. We read. We comment.

      When the writers stop, CT will be like a pub with no beer.

      Whatever the subject, may the ink in the pen of the Fragrant One never run dry.

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