There was never a dull moment. For three months or so I witnessed close-up how our once-blessed isle worked or, more often, did not appear to work at all. That was no illusion. The mounds of stinking garbage are accumulating in some part of the capital while the minister responsible for the subject is seen [...]


To hell with the rules and the laws too


There was never a dull moment. For three months or so I witnessed close-up how our once-blessed isle worked or, more often, did not appear to work at all. That was no illusion. The mounds of stinking garbage are accumulating in some part of the capital while the minister responsible for the subject is seen by an increasingly angry public as spitting out verbal garbage on why the local government elections, long overdue, are still not being held.

This is indicative of the chaotic nature of the so-called National Unity Government which is neither national nor united and a government that is fractious at best with some of its obstreperous members publicly quarrelsome.

There were many moments of sadness during these months hearing some citizens recount what they have passed through in the past two years. Thankfully those moments of sorrow had been regularly punctuated by hours of hilarity at the goings on in the world of yahapalanaya as many who voted for radical change and clean government related how they were taken for a ride by a set of politicians who presented themselves as ‘clean’. They have been clean indeed.

In a moment of school-boyish jollity one hopes, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe answering some questions at the Stallions enclosure at the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter is reported to have said that his next move is to stay in power.
Well that should give him and his party once known as the Uncle Nephew Party, now transformed into other relationships, enough time to clean up what is left of the country.

That is unless their foreign friends get away with the loot first or the present lot are thrown out with a kick in the posterior by a disgusted public which is less confused than the ones elected to rule the country.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe at the Royal Thomian big match: When asked what his next move was he said, in a lighter vein, "To stay in power"

Family commitments and intentions to start writing my long-planned book on recollections of some 50 years in journalism and a much briefer period in diplomacy which had its intense days tinged with hours of joie de vivre brought me to Colombo earlier than I usually do — that is a couple of weeks ahead of the Royal-Thomian which is akin to an annual pilgrimage undertaken by former students of the contending schools mainly domiciled abroad.

The breakdown of conventional practices on the first day of the match this year seemed to reflect, albeit in a microcosmic way, the chaos within the ruling coalition. Not since I became a member of the privileged Mustang enclosure for senior old boys — though some juniors have crept in — in the Centenary year nearly 40 years ago, can I remember an occasion when beer was not on sale there. In the meantime, several other enclosures, too many of them really and mostly unnecessary, have emerged. Anyway I doubt whether beer was available there either.

This year, for some reason not entirely clear, there was no beer on the first day and a minor revolt was in the making from the whispers doing the rounds. I mean they were not demanding duty-free cars, places in the best schools for their children or even pretending to strike a blow for free-education like those so-called doctors of the GMOA who are eternally on strike having struck down a noble profession in search of their 30 pieces of silver and even less. All they wanted was the beer as usual.

Some said that the authorities responsible for issuing a licence to sell beer — if indeed a licence is necessary — had no backbone unlike President Sirisena who claimed to have one, and were running scared because a couple of Buddhist monks had publicly called for an end to ‘Big Matches’ because students consumed liquor during the days of play.

Even monks can be stupid at times, thinking that youth need to wait for the annual cricket encounter to imbibe some brew. Surely they should know that there are others who have no tradition playing ‘big matches’ do not wait for the annual event to come along to imbibe. Surely they should know that there are individuals prohibited by their code of conduct who do so.

The growing rebellion within the grounds might not have been as big as the Uva-Wellassa one in 1818 against the British. Nor were its rebellious leaders likely to be decorated as patriots by President Sirisena, but it sure seemed that a couple of monks were more concerned at annual cricket matches than the disparagement of the Sasana by some people in robes.

There were those who suggested on that unprecedented first day that it would do much good to Buddhism if the concerned Buddhist monks dealt with those who brought the religion into international disrepute like the leaders of the BBS and the monk in the eastern province who threatened physical violence against a state official and other instances.

Whoever was guilty of this faux pas causing the much-subdued atmosphere probably realised that the growing uneasy would lead to tracking down the culprit/s who would receive a proportionate response. So on the second day this great lapse was rectified though the Tiger beer arrived somewhat late probably because its brand name aroused the suspicions of some over-zealous official who apparently alerted the Terrorist Investigation Division to probe the incident.

Anyway by the third day, government ministers and opposition politicians were enjoying even more inebriating brew from the looks of things at the Mustangs and even more junior enclosures.This subdued atmosphere led to all the blame being laid at the doorstep of the yahapalana government for bowing to the calls from diverse groups to take diverse actions over diverse issues and showing little of the guts it claims to have.

So the yahapanites often called the nopalanites and even worse, depending on the grievances of the aggrieved came in for a slating from individuals of different professions as the first day wore on in that ‘pub’ with no beer.The grievances varied from the inaction of the investigators to track down those responsible for several killings, disappearances, abduction and torture of journalists to corruption and graft among the present lot of governing politicians to the inaction against the top brass of the previous regime who seem to be getting away with their own brands of infamy.

Much of the blame for the tardy progress in bringing the guilty to book is traced to interference by government politicians, shady business leaders and nefarious individuals who have much to lose if suspects are arrested and brought to book.The cross-pollination between the past lot and the present has led to pressure on investigators to drop or go easy in following obvious leads and even to the release of some in custody, we are told. As the stories go the corruption and the political interference continues despite the moral preaching of our leaders of which I had heard plenty in recent months.

Such is the moral preaching that covers up moral turpitude that one begins to wonder whether Sri Lanka is backsliding despite all the talk about economic advancement and foreign investment of which one sees little, not even a Volkswagen.

Rather the constant refrain of the public is the unbearable cost of living that is becoming increasingly unmanageable with rice millers entering the fray by making the staple disappear. One does feel the growing strain when one has to pay two hundred rupees for a kilo of papaya. Even if one traced memories to the last century one could hardly find a time when a simple village fruit grown in home gardens cost so much.

My contribution to this ever growing collection of lamentations and personal experiences is the deterioration of service standards in once respected institutions such as the Bank of Ceylon where staff call each other elder brother, younger brother, elder and younger sister in Sinhala in the presence of customers as though they are all part of the same happy family or behave aggressively towards customers as though they were treasury bond operators on the make.

On occasions I was forced to make complaints at the conduct of some bank employees who seemed to consider themselves a combination of Central Bank Governor and FCID investigators.Meanwhile the impartial investigations ordered into several matters seem to end in mid air. The public I was told is still waiting to hear of the outcome of these investigations.

There was one hilarious incident when private television captured an infamous telephone call to IGP Pujitha Jayasundera about a Nilame who the IGP assured the caller addressed as ‘Sir’ that the Nilame would not be arrested. Some Nilame that. Here was the head of police himself assuring the caller that the law could be somehow adjusted to suit the circumstance.

Numerous similar stories like the halt into the investigations of the Lasantha Wickrematunge and the Thajudeen killings and the abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr are said to be because political high-ups and military personnel are tied up with these unsavoury episodes that have left Sri Lanka permanently scarred.

Yet we are assured by the likes of Mangala Samaraweera speaking officially that Sri Lanka’s judicial process is impartial and can handle judicial inquiries like that called for by the UNHRC Resolution of 2015 with the degree of integrity and independence that such accountability trials require.

If what has happened in the last two years as told to me by those concerned and my own observations in situ mean anything then Samaraweera’s assurances are as worthy as the old saying that pigs can fly.Unfortunately space does not permit some other tales that bring tears or laughter to listeners be related now. But surely it will not be long before more doings in our homeland require to be told. There is so much to be told.

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