Two weeks ago a news website ran a story of a ministerial faux pas that had also escaped the notice of the rest of the cabinet. The story called the cabinet ministers a “pack of jokers” for letting this error in a cabinet paper from the Sports Minister (among other portfolios) go by without a [...]


Making jokers of us all


Two weeks ago a news website ran a story of a ministerial faux pas that had also escaped the notice of the rest of the cabinet. The story called the cabinet ministers a “pack of jokers” for letting this error in a cabinet paper from the Sports Minister (among other portfolios) go by without a squeak of protest or even a complaint.

President Sirisena

The story claimed that Sports Minister Faiszer Musthapha had sought cabinet approval to appoint his ministry secretary as the competent authority to oversee Sri Lanka Cricket citing clause 44 of the Sports Law. The only problem was that the Sports Law does not have a clause 44. It stops one short of the non-existent 44 unless the Sports Ministry had, in the meantime, invented a new clause unknown to all the pundits in the sports fields and even the so-called legal eagles in a cabinet that is nearing a half century.

That is not all. The story claims that the cabinet paper presented by Musthapha PC had made another error which would take too much space to relate here. But it does raise a couple of issues. Having a two-letter suffix after one’s name is sometimes for adornment. Faiszer Musthapha is a president’s counsel. Today there are many with the two-letter appellation around the country that there are some who mistake “PC” for police constable and others think it stands for previous conviction.

Anyway one cannot blame the learned Musthapha unless it is for an act of omission-not reading his own cabinet paper- because it was most probably written by one of his ministry officials or another PC who probably charges a couple of million bucks for just standing up in court and saying “My Lords” to those on the Supreme Court Bench.

Perhaps the headline went a little too far in characterizing the entire cabinet as a pack of jokers thereby denigrating genuine jokers who are likely to launch a protest blocking Lotus Road and other routes, producing more jams than the Marketing Department.

In reality however some of our politicians in and out of cabinet tend to behave like jaded stand up comics with the views they hold, the promises they make and the unachievable targets they set to be met decades from now when most of us will not be around to cheer or jeer at the lawyers and liars who played out the country- though not according to the sports law or the ICC rules.

Since the news story (some government politician imitating the Trumpian habit of dismissing any inconvenient news as ‘fake’ might try to do the same) refers to the cabinet which appears to be mostly intellectually empty as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, it would be convenient and courteous to start at the top of the totem, as it were.

Somewhere in mid-2015 the newly appointed President Sirisena attended an international conference against corruption called by then British Prime Minister David Cameron. Sirisena virtually boasted at the steps the new government of Sri Lanka was taking to wipe out corruption and bring the leading lights of the previous administration to justice for alleged graft and to recover and repatriate plundered state assets.

Along with other international participants I listened to President Sirisena’s determined promises to see an end to corruption and punish the guilty. He sounded sincere enough.

Three years later the crooks are still roaming free, no mention is made of how much of stolen state assets if any has been recovered, promises to eradicate corruption in state institutions are still being made as the president did in Polonnaruwa a few months back while politicians and government lackeys continue to steal in various ways.

Who was eventually caught in a makeshift counting house counting out some of alleged bribe- money but the president’s own chief- of- staff. How many others in the presidential circle have been dabbling in ‘business affairs’ that stretch as far pressing for the purchase of an outdated Russian ship or running restaurants and hotels, only ‘knowing people know’ as that Sri Lankan saying goes.

Climbing the moral high horse the president over-ruled Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s attempt to amend an outdated law prohibiting women from buying liquor or selling it.

If women owners of restaurants obtain a license to sell alcohol, one supposes that the yahapalana moral code permits such entrepreneurship! That is not all. Each time one passes by the duty free shops at our international airport one sees women loading their trolleys with liquor. Is this permitted under the Sirisena interpretation of the yahapalana law?

Addressing a conference on forestry at the FAO in Rome the other day, President Sirisena stated his intention to increase Sri Lanka’s forest cover from 29.7 % to 32 % in two years. He hopes to plant 5 million trees in that time.

There is an old Sinhala saying “kateng bathala hitewanawa wagey” (planting sweet potatoes with the mouth). If Sirisena wants to preserve the country’s forest cover then he must clamp down on politicians and their torch bearers (pandang karayas), mudalalis and even service personnel cutting down the trees for timber, illegally clearing forests to build homes and guest houses (as one service high up reportedly did at one time) and settle their “catchers”on state property.

We all know that even today forest reserves are being encroached into, state land being cleared and ’commandeered’ by politicians including those of the present government.

The cabinet is not full of jokers. It is the people of this country who are treated as jokers by the corrupt politicians and their hangers- on. If President Sirisena seriously thinks he could increase the forest cover to 32% by 2020, then he is not politician he is a magician. Who pray is going to count the trees to see that 5 million of them have been planted in the ground instead of on paper?

Sirisena’s problem is that he makes promises that he cannot or does not hope to keep. It is not forest cover that he is after but political cover to hoodwink the people as he prepares to launch another try at the presidency, the presidency he promised to abolish and said he will relinquish after one term.

It was not too long ago that President Sirisena daunted the world to lay hands on the country’s former army commander and ambassador to Brazil Jagath Jayasuriya when news broke of attempts being made by activists in Latin America to have him arrested for alleged war crimes and violations of international law.

I will not let anyone to touch him, boasted President Sirisena obviously unaware of the law of universal jurisdiction that several countries have committed themselves to follow. It was from such moves in London that once President Rajapaksa and his security chief Maj- Gen Chagi Gallage had to evade.

Just because he has been travelling the world more than any other Sri Lankan leader has done in such a short time, Sirisena mistakenly believes that he has a global reach. So when he declares General Jayasuriya and other “war heroes” as untouchables he expects the world will hear him. He appears to be living in the wrong planet.

He forgets that his remit does not run as far as he thinks it does, not even in the country he heads. The other day he was complaining that he heard of the move to increase the salaries of MPs through the newspapers. Nobody tells him anything, it appears.

The other day he was heard blaming the monkeys for the high price of coconuts. He claimed the primates were eating the nuts ignoring the fact that there were politicians and shady businessmen going round dashing coconuts at religious places to fulfill vows made or to damn a rival.

It’s no great wonder there are one million monkeys as the president claims. With so many nuts on the loose and more likely to appear as the elections draw closer there will be many monkeys up to tricks.

Just last week Minister of Southern Development and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s chief of staff threatened to crack down on what he called trade union “terrorism” which he said was holding the country to ransom. Sagala Ratnayake was referring to the railway unions.

But strangely enough Minister Ratnayake and the government are deferentially silent about the continuous strikes launched almost every other day by the GMOA which is holding the people of this country to ransom more than the railway unions.
These ‘mad medicos’ as some call them who availed themselves of education at public expense but are so concerned with wrenching benefits for themselves they have forgotten the people who paid for their education. The GMOA is nothing but a muscle-flexing bully that cares little for the people which it is duty and morally bound to treat.

Ministers do not threaten them because they do not care whether these stethoscope-wearing moral degenerates strike or not. They will fly off to Singapore for medical care dipping into the President’s Fund or MPs medical allowances while the public suffer at home.

This is what politics means in Sri Lanka. President Sirisena wants to hang convicted drug dealers. He should extend his rope trick to other kinds of drug dealers and deal with a few of them too without preaching homilies.

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