With its focus on the fallout from the ongoing Geneva meeting of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the Government, which is straining every sinew to hold the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) here later this year, amidst all odds, appears to have forgotten to put up a show last Monday on Commonwealth Day. [...]


CHOGM: Come or get lost


With its focus on the fallout from the ongoing Geneva meeting of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the Government, which is straining every sinew to hold the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) here later this year, amidst all odds, appears to have forgotten to put up a show last Monday on Commonwealth Day.

Sri Lanka was not alone. Not many others marked the day. In London, the heart of a once mighty empire, the 54 member-nation grouping’s head, Queen Elizabeth II, launched the new Commonwealth Charter of Core Values and Principles – democracy, development, human rights, freedom of expression, protecting the environment and gender equality. That was about it, other than for an editorial displaying one-upmanship by the otherwise prestigious Guardian newspaper which pompously suggested the “unwisdom” of choosing Sri Lanka as host for this year’s CHOGM and the “ludicrous situation” of sending the Queen or the Prince of Wales to a country that has “very serious unresolved human rights charges hanging over it”.

There seems to be a little too much on Sri Lanka’s plate to handle right now, especially given its incoherent foreign policy and sketchy domestic policy. The British-based Financial Times pressed the point this week saying that the British Prime Minister is facing “growing calls to cancel or boycott” the CHOGM in Sri Lanka. This echoes the recommendations of the British Parliamentary Affairs Select Committee which last year called on David Cameron not to travel to Sri Lanka.
Last week, senior members of the British Government and the Opposition attended an anti-Sri Lanka meeting at Westminster. It was organised by a group that had once backed the Eelam cause. Despite the rhetoric at home, there is a groundswell developing to torpedo the CHOGM and embarrass the Government and Sri Lanka in the process.
In the aftermath of the UNHRC sessions comes a meeting of the CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) that will almost certainly discuss the CHOGM. In the event the UNHRC passes an anti-Sri Lanka resolution (which now seems inevitable), the CMAG is bound to take judicial notice of it.

Then, it would be a case of Sri Lanka trying desperately to justify itself in the eyes of an organisation that is increasingly being seen as a ‘white man’s club’ to browbeat nations that don’t play ball with it, and little else. Modern India is more than happy to play the role of the Brown Sahib in this club.

Even on the sidelines of the CHOGM are some questionable events, like the Commonwealth Business Forum, that bring little tangible results to the stakeholders. Ask any participant at the last CHOGMs in Kampala and Perth and he or she will tell you what benefits accrue to them from the Commonwealth Business Council that runs the show. In London last week, the head of the Royal Commonwealth Society attended the anti-Sri Lanka meeting.

So, is it not time that the Government took a very serious step on the CHOGM right now? Should it not write to all 54 Heads of Government due to attend and seek confirmation of their participation. The event is anyway penciled in their diaries. There is no need to write to the Canadian Prime Minister because he has already announced that he would not be attending.

That way, Sri Lanka will not be kept guessing and dangling on a tight rope until the last minute, only to be humiliated on the world stage even further. It is as if the country is begging for mercy right now with its ministers and envoys arguing a bad brief and urging folks to come to a country otherwise well known for its hospitality.

The summit is going to cost the hard-pressed citizens of this country a ‘bomb’ while the Government continues to bend backwards to hold a useless meeting that will have no impact on world affairs. Ask the Heads of Government to make a commitment now – or get lost. Enough of this diplomatic torture.

CPC a den of corruption
The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has been accused of heaping burden upon burden on the ordinary people of this country. In the past two years, there have been five price increases in petrol, diesel, kerosene and furnace oil impacting on people across the board and making their lives more and more difficult. CPC losses stand at Rs. 89 billion.

The CPC has tried its utmost to ‘pass the buck’, so to say, to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and other state and semi-state institutions like the military, SriLankan Airlines and Mihinair. That long standing excuse is only partly valid.Opposition lawmakers are accusing the Government of bypassing Parliament in the control of public finances. Annual reports by the Auditor General and the oversight committee COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) have ended up in the waste paper basket.

While the Bribery and Corruption Commission moves at the speed of greased lightning to investigate the Chief Justice 43 and her husband because of serious disagreements with the Government, rampant corruption within the CPC goes uninvestigated. No one was booked for the colossal losses in the hedging fiasco that cost the CPC millions upon millions not long ago. The culprits, in fact, are doing very well.

Just this week, details of corruption were unveiled at a media conference held by a public interest group at the OPA (Organisation of Professional Associations). About the same time, trade unionists at the CPC met the high-ups and gave documentary evidence of the import of Gas oil from Petro Viet Nam through a Singaporean company. They say the fraud amounts to more than Rs. one billion. Fuel from Vietnam is ordered by highly placed and influential persons in the Government, and their sons.

The imports that took place in 2011/12 are to continue. On Thursday, the Commercial High Court impounded a Vietnam vessel bringing contaminated crude oil to Trincomalee harbour. Moves to import Omani oil are only going to compound the situation because of its inferior quality.

Not only are the consumers having to pay more, they are being provided with inferior oil. What is wrong with this Government if it cannot put the CPC in order? Transferring the Minister or sacking the Chairman alone doesn’t help. The mafia continues. The institution is reeking with corruption by a few at the expense of the many.

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