Oh citizens, what injustice is committed in thy name. What travesty is fathered on thee, my citizens. So okay, this is hardly Shakespeare. But then neither did the Bard write that Marcus Antonius (also known as Mark Anthony) killed Caesar as one of our new parliamentarians said in October in that very august assembly. How [...]


In the name of the people


Oh citizens, what injustice is committed in thy name. What travesty is fathered on thee, my citizens. So okay, this is hardly Shakespeare. But then neither did the Bard write that Marcus Antonius (also known as Mark Anthony) killed Caesar as one of our new parliamentarians said in October in that very august assembly.

How wrong it is to accuse Julius Caesar’s dearest friend of stabbing his leader in the back though it is not unusual for such happenings in the world of politics. Remember Judas betrayed Jesus having partaken of the last supper. Some centuries later one of our own did the dirty after munching several egg hoppers at our leader’s supper.

But not quite a peoples’ representative, dear Diana or whatever her name, accused Mark Anthony of homicide. Not out of malice, rest assured, but in an attempt to display her erudition to an equally erudite assembly of elected (not all, take note) people. In this case it was surely ignorance that tripped her on her Lankan toga.  So much for National List MPs!

Had it been Anthony who had been dragged before court and convicted of regicide or whatever cide for killing an emperor he would have been pardoned for a carriage or miscarriage of justice and set free.

In modern times, however, the convicted walk out like a celluloid Rambo and others wait to follow suit in the name of equality where all men, especially the guilty are released to breathe the air of freedom while others are locked up for months. How times have changed!

Poor Diana, once a British citizen now apparently not, confused a play by Shakespeare for one by Shakesperera and has been sacked by her party for voting for the wrong side of the 20th Amendment and to hell with Anthony.

But dear Di did not ‘die’ for nothing. She resurrected her reputation as a student of Shakespeare by adapting the words of Brutus from the same play she tripped over. Defending her support for the highly controversial constitutional amendment, the parliamentary novice said she did so not because she loves her party less but because she loved her nation more. Now add one more to the ever swelling cacophonous collection of patriots and we have a nation like no other.

The upshot of this is that politicians whether big, medium or small, utters, mutters or bellows  that their sacred duty is to serve the people.

The political reality is that a member of Sajith Premadasa’s party deserted it supposedly on behalf of the people and anything that may accrue later from such a worthy sacrifice.

Every four-five years, so many voters in democratic countries cast their ballots, swallowing the same old myths articulated by politicians who promise everything including a serendipitous future while their henchmen prevaricate by the lorry load and spread it like bovine rubbish.

I had almost reached the end of this column (given the space constraints) when Prime Minister Rajapaksa announced his budget. Its socio-economic overtones seemed to promise a lot with a bent towards agricultural expansion and development.

That is understandable after the battering the economy took and continues to take from the ongoing pandemic  which Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi now says Sri Lanka will need to endure for another  3 ½ years. So whether Mahinda Rajapaksa’s optimistic budget will prove as rosy as it is meant to, only time will tell.

I may be wrong but my hurried and cursory reading of the main thrust of the budget failed to detect any reference to a vital issue that faces not only our country but the entire world. That is the environmental devastation this planet faces as a result of disastrous human activity such as the destruction of the habitat in which we and other living beings and plants survive, by deforestration and other acts of ecological abuse.

From attempted deceptive encroachment into the Sinharaja Forest — a World Heritage Site — to the abuse of the wetlands in the northwest by surreptitiously clearing  acres that support biodiversity for prawn farms and the 500,000 hectares of reserve forests being transferred to district authorities from ministries, valuable forest lands are being targeted for felling and environmental destruction.

Even though internationally-recognised Sri Lankan environmentalists and scientists have alerted governments to the inherent dangers of this ongoing ecological abuse those intent on destroying the vital forest cover and our ecosystems turn a deaf ear.

It seems that few care about the human destruction of our environment that is going on apace despite the evidence accumulated by leading scientists and environmentalists from around the world and the United Nations. It is a crying shame that the rate of decline posed by the damage to biodiversity is not considered on the same scale as climate change.

Much of the environmental destruction in this country results from deforestration, the cutting down of our valuable and historical forests. The destruction has not stopped despite the mounting evidence of the dangers to the global environment. In fact it seems to be encouraged by policies intended to benefit the few though it is done in the name of the many.

Within days of this Government coming to power, the Sinharaja forest, the country’s unique remaining virginal tropical forest was encroached into with heavy machinery to make a roadway for the benefit of a few privileged individuals with the ‘right’ connections. The concern of the many seemed an afterthought.

In November last year the then President Sirisena issued a gazette adding vast acres to the Sinharaja expanding its area. But this gazette was not issued until a few days ago, one year after. Why? Is it in the hope of encroaching into the forest before the gazette took effect?

Sri Lanka is a member of world’s climate change community. It supports its policies to save the planet. But what it preaches at world gatherings is not what it practises at home. Our decision making wallows between the ignorant and the arrogant.

There is an old Sinhala saying “beery aliyante veena gahanawa wagey.” Even deaf elephants would know better.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor, Diplomatic Editor and Political Columnist of the Hong Kong Standard before moving to London where he worked for Gemini News Service. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner
in London before returning to journalism.)


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