By Kumar David –
It has been said often but I need to repeat it. Although beneficiaries of seventy-eight years of universal free education and although literacy is said to exceed 90% the citizens of Sri Lanka, if measured by their use of the ballot, are irrational. Even SLPP friends who were beneficiaries of this aberration agree. People have for over half a century been decrying our politicians as corrupt and criminal, but instead I believe that it is the masses who are asses, politicians are clever knaves. This time this has turned out to be grotesquely true.
Consider the sentinels guiding us on the path to a “virtuous and disciplined society”. A convicted murder on death-row in Ratnapura polled hundreds of thousands of preference votes to come second in the District. A criminal on murder charge in Batticaloa polled the highest in that District. The progeny of a VVIP arrested and held for the Thajudeen murder was later released but you know how things happen in Mother Lanka; he now adorns the Cabinet. More than a third of SLPP MPs are alleged miscreants – and some SJB and SLFP. The point is this, the public knew full well who they were voting for. A chain snatcher was publicly known as ratharang (gold) since people didn’t know his real name but they were well tutored in his preference number. The three who topped the SLPP Colombo-list did so because they were racists. The only qualification that counts besides a criminal record is hate speech against Muslims and Tamils; a sought-after qualification across the Island!
People knew all this when they marked their ballots and they voted for insects, not despite but because they were creepy crawlies. What ails the people of this soon to be prosperous and resplendent isle? Unfathomable! I have an answer but you may not agree. Lanka, mainly but not only for Sinhalese, is Rajapaksa country, the mass psyche resonates with ‘Rajapaksaism’ as Medieval Europe was inured to the Church. Deep Rajapaksasim was explicit in January 2015; it was to defeated Mahinda’s ranch that thousands flocked in pilgrimage, it was to him that they vowed fealty. They have kept their word. This bond will not be easily severed or diluted.
What is its genesis? Spiritually, both resonate in their modes of thought; passions of the same genre. Politically it is populism; for the mass corruption is OK but only if it is populist corruption. The bond will be strained by looming economic adversity but it remains to be seen whether hardship will drive the mass away from the Rajapaksa ethos. The oath has person-to-masses overtone as with Mussolini and Peron; forget the SLPP, it is burlesque. The third element is Sinhala nationalism, but not exultation in war victory alone. It is abhorrence of demands to bring the military to justice in domestic or international courts. The Rajapaksas will do neither and this is the fourth factor. No people want their military, even if war crimes against “the other” are true, to be brought to account (vide Japan, Serbia, Bosnia, Burma, the US in Middle Eastern theatres and Turkey’s Armenian genocide of 1914-1923). These four factors gel together. (I do not have data to investigate the political consequences of the massive wealth of the Rajapaksa clan).
Next an article by Lasantha Ruhanage on page 5 of the Sinhala weekly Anithdha of 23 Aug 2020; this and the next two paras are a summary. It is a scathing rebuke of GR-MR appointments. Of 338 Departments and State Institutions in the country 133, a full 40% are under the Paksa clan. Mahinda as Finance Minister has control of 59 and as overlord of Buddhism another 39. Chamal aiya has five Transport related enterprises as a Minister and as State Minister of Defence twelve more. Baby Namal runs the show in five sports related institutions. It gets worse. Mahindanada Aluthgamage is supposed Minister of Agriculture but Chamal’s son Sashindra gets Paddy Marketing, a slush source of funds. Two curious side shows are: The selection of Gota favourite Seetha Arambepola as State Minister rewarded with seven institutions previously in the Science & Technology Ministry, including Research & Innovation, Vocational Education and Skills Development, while Rajapaksa coolie Cabral as State Minister with oversight of three key institutions grabs the State Mortgage Bank too.
In order to make way for this concentration of power other ministers have been castrated. Wimalaweera Dissanayake will be State Minister of Electric Fences to keep out elephants, Nimal Lansa is State Minister of Village Roads, Kanchana Wijesekara assumes colourful responsibility as State Minister of Ornamental Fish, Anurdha Jayaratne of Paddy Fields, Lohan Ratwatte adorns the Gem Trade, Dayasiri Jayasekara will be a glorious model for batiks, and Mohan de Silva is called the kukul (poultry) State Minister. But the prize goes to matta (mud-head). The State Minister of Clay (and Brass and Bamboo) who hurled chilli powder at the Speaker “to preserve democracy” is Prasana Ranaweera. The MR-GR game is to give jokers a car, a pompous backseat to ride in, a petrol allowance and about ten cronies to fawn over them, maybe less for State Ministers; secretaries, coordinators, drivers, security staff. Keep the pantaloons at the circus while the Paksas distil power into their own hands! It all fits; the electorate supplies the Administration with coots and the government feeds them loot from the public purse. These locusts will settle for anything if it includes the aforesaid perks at public expense. The ‘perks-cost’ of Cabinet and State Minsters, including carefully concealed costs, I estimate is about Rs 10 billion per annum. Add the other locusts called Deputy Ministers, and miserable MPs left high and dry with a mere million or two, and we are looking vaporisation of public funds to the tune of Rs 20 billion. For the n-th time I remind you, our 90% literate citizenry elected comedians in full knowledge that this was the farce.
In order to accommodate this mishmash some ministers had to be reduced to glorified corporate chairmen. That is to say there is a solo-corporation with its management, board of directors and chairman and now a ministry has been created with a solo-portfolio to oversee the corporation. A grotesque example is the power ministry (Dulles Alahaperuma) which might as well be retitled Ministry-of-CEB, but it’s not the only one. CB Ratnayake is Minister of the Timber Corporation, Mahinda Amaraweera’s environmental ministry is minuscule, his portfolio pruned to nearly nothing, Vasudeva Nanayakkara sits alone atop a water tower, banished from rural water supply, Douglas Devananda Fishes in solitude. Pavithra has had her wings clipped; pharmaceutical production-regulation and indigenous medicine are vested in new State Ministries. This is enough to show you the pandemonium and chaotic assignment of Ministries and State Ministries. Conflicts among them, and much more serious, conflict between jobless-ministers and the solo-corporations they (mis)manage is inevitable. Why did MR and GR do this? Beats me!
Now for a honk. Vigy everyone knows is an eccentric, he knowingly provokes Sinhala bigots by saying that Tamil is the oldest living language in the Sub-Continent if not the whole blooming world. I reckon he did it for fun and frolic! Some coot of an MP fell for it, naïvely took the bait and demanded that Vigy’s remarks be expunged from Hansard. You never know, the Speaker may change his mind and oblige. Then the whole jingbang of liberals at home and abroad will have a field day ridiculing free speech in our parliament. Why doesn’t the coot just say that Sinhala is older than Tamil, then scores will be settled and we will be back to square-one? Or what about arranging the first duel on the banks of the Diyawana Oya? Weapons chilli powder. Ok, so you think I am getting frivolous, but after 1300 words regaling you about our Parliamentarians and Cabinet, I too need relief.