By Kumar David –
Though 2015 started off on a felicitous note which continued into the middle of the year – trouncing Rajapaksa in January and again in August, an agreement on war-crimes investigations, Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader and global economic easing though not recovery, and snippets of good news towards year’s end such as Aung San Suu Kyie’s victory – eventually 2015 ended on a despondent note. Unease stalks America and Europe; the global economy, by and large is stalling. At home the government is directionless in that it has no coherent economic strategy and seems to have given up the fight for good governance. It is reasonable to fear that the Ranil-Sirisena (R&S) Administration is blocking exposure and prosecution of Rajapaksa-era financial blackguards and members of the Rajapaksa-clan accused of homicide.
It is worrisome when lame-duck columnists (e.g. Daily News of 9 Dec.) assure us that all is well with the Thahudeen murder investigations. Amazingly, despite the evidence that that article itself adverts to (e.g. “CID has recovered CCTV footage of Thajudeen’s killing and some VIP sons appeared in the video”) the writer is oblivious to the contradiction that no arrests have been made nor charges filed. If the R&S Administration is stalling investigation of Rajapaksa regime crimes, it is but a short step to government high-ups becoming corrupt themselves. This is the reason for public glumness.
Three acts of this government have stoked anxiety: (a) the Central Bank bond scandal on which I will say no more since all details are in the public domain; (c) the Avande Guard controversy too is much in the public domain and there is nothing I can add; (c) President Sirisena appointed his brother Kumarasinghe to the Chairmanship of SLT within days of his election followed by worse appointments to SLT and Mobitel. Now there are allegations that a multi-million dollar scam to offload Hutch on Mobitel is in the works (“Exposé: President Sirisena in thick of multi-billion kick-back scandal”, Colombo Telegraph, 21 November). There is a lot of trivial dirty linen washing in the media that you can ignore unless time hangs heavy on your hands. (Did the President’s daughter visit state agencies in Pollonnaruwa? – If so who the hell cares except jobless journalists. Did doting papa take son to the UN? Tut, tut!)
Item (c) is not as well known and I invite those interested in good-governance to follow up. What is being alleged is that telecom operator Hutch is in the doldrums but has no takers; Dialog, the country’s largest, does not want it. If this true, SLT through wholly owned subsidiary Mobitel can dictate price. CT claims that “experts in the industry” say that Hutch cannot fetch even $60 million in the market but Kumarasinghe Sirisena wants to purchase it for $130 million. The overpayment will be out of public (Mobitel) coffers and it is implied that Kumarasinghe will get a kick-back. The further insinuation is that President will be a beneficiary. I am not suggesting that any of this is true, but am concerned that a refutation has not been issued and no inquiry made to dispel lingering doubts in the public mind. With memory of Rajapaksa days still fresh and bearing in mind that Sirisena was a Cabinet Minister in that den of thieves for nine long years, a firm rebuttal and follow up action is necessary.
After the Daesh attacks
Despondency is high in Europe and America about terrorism. People know that the military campaign will not succeed if it is limited to airpower; they also know Western ground troops if sent in will be trapped in a quagmire from which they will never escape (remember Iraq after Bush, Afghanistan for 12 years). The public in the West also knows that locals in Iraq and Syria won’t pull chestnuts out of the fire just to please the West. The clans and tribes in the region will not put their hearts into it unless a political solution is agreed and socio-economic rebuilding is in progresses. Daesh is a proto state with 3 to 5 million people under its control and a functional economy. It runs an administration, schools, clinics, hospitals, courts, law enforcement and economic agencies. Recruitment now is mostly not by ideologues approaching targets to persuade them to join the cause; a larger number now are ‘self-recruits’ enraged by events in the Middle East or ‘self-persuaded’ on-line converts. A friend estimated that about 1 in 7 adult Muslims worldwide sympathise with the cause even if not the methods. None of this will go away because of bombs, better intelligence or anti-jihadist education campaigns that liberals swear by. Only practical changes to improve the lives of the poor and the homeless in the Middle East, and the humiliated and unemployed in Western ghettoes can make a difference.
A purely military strategy will fail; if the root causes are destruction of nations, misery and poverty, then cart before the horse bombs are doomed. American and Europeans know also know that their governments cannot make the paradigm shift to another way of doing things. I believe that to “solve” the crisis in the Middle East, first governments in the West have to be changed. A tall order; so you will call me a dreamer? OK, but in five years you will have this same war going on in one way or another. Jeremy Corbyn lost heavily in the Commons debate; about 60 Labour MPs broke ranks and voted with David Cameroon to bomb Syria. But Corbyn will have the last laugh; within months as bombing proves pointless, public opinion will swing his way. In 2020 this will be a Corbyn asset in the UK elections. Will Corbyn-type governments in Western countries have better prospects of coaxing out a political solution and getting socio-economic reconstruction on track in these war wracked countries? Maybe, but if not what else can the West do and how else can it forestall an apocalyptic war of civilisations?
Before commenting on the swing to the loony fringe in parts of Europe and much of America there is a point about the David Cameron Conservatives that justifies emphasis. This government is more centrist than Thatcher’s neo-right and Teflon Blair’s fake-Labour. Yes, that’s right; Blairite Labour was well to the right of Cameron Tories. The way Cameron-Osborne swung from austerity to easing cuts when the economy recovered is remarkable. Osborne in an interview with Charlie Rose called the government progressive-Conservatism, an oxymoron like Ranil’s social-capitalism, but in the UK there is some content to the re-branding.
Europe is suffering from political schizophrenia. Spain, Portugal, Greece despite Tsipras, and the UK by heady endorsement of Corbyn as Labour Party leader, are moving in one direction though UKIP is a worry. Parts of the Continent are going elsewhere! A right’s poll in the 2014 European Parliament elections: Marine Le Penn’s Front National FN (22%), Britain’s UKIP (24%), Austrian Freedom Party (23%), Danish People’s Party (19%) and Dutch Freedom Party (18%). In Eastern Europe, more obnoxious primitive governments are in office, for example Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Chez Republic.
The North-East is France’s industrial heartland, the traditional working class stronghold of the socialist and in days of yore, the powerful French Communists. What happened in regional elections? The 6 December first round is more important than the 13 December runoff when everybody ganged up to defeat FN in all 13 Regions (the Socialists withdrew their candidates from two Regions to help the Republicans to win). The first round poll makes one exclaim: “My god is the French working class lost to the fascists! Two comments are typical of what’s on the web: “God bless the French, they’ve come to their senses. Leftists destroy Western civilization by design such as Obama or through ineptitude like Hollande and Merkel” and “The French voted for the NF because they want border controls and no more Muslims”.
Think of that clownish, boor Trump stirring up hatred and the other semi-literate Republican Presidential candidates denigrating everyone from immigrants to women to radicals. Then despair at what will become of America if a Republican wins the White House! The world is looking like the 1930s; pity many in Lanka do not see that this will change their lives too.