This is the month that was. The new year almost always begins with a bang. Actually many, many bangs as bursting firecrackers greet the dawn of another year. This year however was special. Above the din of the celebratory explosions was heard the cacophony of political debate as parties in contestation at next month’s local [...]


All this and tall stories too


This is the month that was. The new year almost always begins with a bang. Actually many, many bangs as bursting firecrackers greet the dawn of another year. This year however was special. Above the din of the celebratory explosions was heard the cacophony of political debate as parties in contestation at next month’s local elections assiduously searched for chinks in the political armour of their opponents and even those they call friends.

Politicians keep preaching to the media that facts are sacred. Apparently such ‘commandments’ do not apply to these preachers some of who find gossip an integral part of making all manner of charges of political malignity against those they wish to put down.

Over on the other side of the big pond, early morning twitter- master Donald Trump was trumpeting he will shut down the US of A not only at home but all over the world where Washington has left a footprint or even a fingerprint. Sri Lanka was hardly in a position to shut down anything. In fact Sri Lanka’s problem is that it just will not shut up. Take those “loquacious two” called cabinet spokesmen who seem to be suffering from verbal diarrhoea. Like Tennyson’s ‘Brook’ they often threaten to go on and on, even straying from briefing strictly on cabinet matters.

They seem to love their roles so much that they do not mind telling a story or two that is taller than the Lotus Tower or whatever the tallest building in Colombo is called. It might be pardonable if they are weaving such stories to tell their grandchildren at home or trying to entertain some tiny tots at a nursery. But to concoct fables and spin them to an adult audience of journalists is to demean the gathering besides themselves.

Had they been anything like Baron Munchausen they could have been packed off to the Galle Literary Festival. Not because they are entertaining writers but to get them out of Colombo and the media microphones.  The other day when President Sirisena ‘stormed’ out of a cabinet meeting as some journalists wrote, it was not hard to guess why the president did so. As reported he made quite a long and strong speech prior to getting down to cabinet business, blaming some UNP second- stringers for criticizing him publicly with adverse remarks that were unpalatable.

He is said to have even asked whether some UNP leaders were prompting their juniors to say what they are saying of him. If that were so then this ‘marriage’ could not go on, he reportedly said. Having said that the president had abruptly left the meeting and headed towards his office inside the presidential secretariat. It was also reported that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and a couple of others had later gone to where Sirisena, like Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, was sulking in something more than a tent.

The president was coaxed back to the meeting where he completed the day’s business. But what did the “loquacious two” tell the gathered media? That the president had gone to the toilet or washroom or whatever you want to call it. Who do Rajitha Senaratne and Dayasiri Jayasekara think they were trying to fool with their naive explanation of why the president left the meeting in high dudgeon?

If they expected the story to gain any currency they should have been able to explain why Ranil Wickremesinghe and others reportedly went to coax the president and accompany him back to the meeting. If what the spokesmen said was true then it must be the first time in the history of the presidential years that a ruling head was ceremonially – so to say – escorted back from a visit to the washroom, to put it less grossly.

It is surely time that cabinet briefings are taken more seriously by those who are mandated the task and the media also do not reduce it to a farce by posing irrelevant questions that provide the spokesmen with the opportunity to digress. The month actually began with President Sirisena making a statement on January 3 on the “Bond Commission” ( if one might call it that for convenience) report which he had received four days previously.

There was widespread public interest in the report since the so called bond scam was the first major and significant fraud that was said to have happened under the yahapalanaya administration. The controversy over the auction of treasury bonds and allegations of insider trading because of the relationship between the Central Bank Governor and one of the principal primary dealers who is the son-in-law of the governor, turned into a casus belli for the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction and others who were by now becoming disillusioned with the unfulfilled promises of clean and corruption less government.
Hungry to get their teeth into the commission report the scheduled parliamentary debate turned instead into a brawl that would no doubt have made good theatre for a public titillated by free displays of pugilistic performances.

With copies of the 1200 – odd page tome not being available, frustrated MPs could hardly engage in meaningful debate – even if they had the will and knowledge to do so. What better opportunity then than to exercise their muscles before the Code of Conduct for MPs banned their proclivity for pugilistic warfare in or outside the House.

After all MPs are reportedly entitled to free head and body massages courtesy of parliament, possibly to keep them fit for any eventuality even if it is public money that is spent. Perhaps it might be better if the massage is restricted to the head. It might possibly, yes possibly, get any lingering grey cells functioning for the greater good of the country.

In an interview that Malik Samarawickrema, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade gave this month, Samarawickrema who was one of the ministers summoned before the Bond Commission, has said that if there are “slight differences of opinion between the president and the prime minister they will solve it”. What sheer understatement.

Is the “slight differences” our expert on development strategy speaks of a strategy to be mounted to hoodwink the public once more. Wouldn’t he be a marvel if he joins the spokesmen duo and makes it an intellectual triumvirate. Samarawickrema also from his alma mater at Race Course Avenue seems to think the people are gullible enough to be fooled by his characterisation of the developing spat between the president and prime minister as “slight differences”.

Saying that no minister or MP of the UNP is part of the bond scam, Samarawickrema says that his one-time ministerial colleague Ravi Karunanayake lost his portfolio not because of the bond scam. “He was accused of committing a different offence…….. It is about taking money from Arjun Aloysius to buy a luxury apartment.”

One does not know whether Ravi Karunanayake agrees with his UNP chairman but the plaintive plea in the lengthy statement he issued a few days ago points out that there is a conspiracy against him, that the Commission does not say that he should be charged in court. He wonders who introduced such a thought into the presidential statement issued early this month. Who indeed had slipped it in to say Karunanayake should be prosecuted if, as he says, the Commission does not say anything of the kind.

Karunanayake’s defence is that he is more sinned against than sinning, that a conscious attempt is being made by parties not mentioned to destroy him politically. Has this conspiracy been launched from within the UNP or by forces outside his own party or a combination of friend and foe ?

Like bloodhounds on the trail the public have been anxious to follow the tracks. Yet most do not have the time or the wherewithal to lay their hands on the commission report. For some reason the government decided to fix the debate on the report for after the local elections. Was the UNP somehow feeling politically vulnerable that it thought it best to have it after the February 10 election.

But there is the plus side to this as far as the UNP is concerned. Sirisena by seeking the advice of the Supreme Court has had his term of office firmly set at five years. Whoever his advisers were he has now become like his predecessor who sought astrological advice and ended up holding an early election and suffering defeat. Both had their terms of office clipped.

The UNP’s backbenchers must now be told not to make a target of the president though there are some impetuous UNP parliamentarians who like to hear their own voices.

The coming months, especially the post-election months will indicate how the game is going to play out. Both the president and the prime minister, if they want to cohabit should keep away from areas where even the angels fear to tread. January has proved to be interesting with comic sub-plots to add some humour to a month of theatrics.

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