Regular reports about ‘treasure hunters’ and intrepid cops catching them convey the impression that this island of ours is indeed a Treasure Island. Not as entertaining of the Treasure Island of Robert Louis Stevenson with the one-legged pirate, Long John Silver, and his merry men with the lines: Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest. [...]

Sunday Times 2

Treasure Island resurrected


Regular reports about ‘treasure hunters’ and intrepid cops catching them convey the impression that this island of ours is indeed a Treasure Island. Not as entertaining of the Treasure Island of Robert Louis Stevenson with the one-legged pirate, Long John Silver, and his merry men with the lines:

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest.

You-ho-ho and a bottle of rum

Drink and the devil had done for the rest…

Regrettably, in 2021, we have to get back to our own Treasure Island, on which we started this commentary, where an inexhaustible number of treasures seem to be underground with an infinite number of treasure hunters, hunting for them.

Meanwhile, a new kind of treasure hunting has been cultivated by our politicians: National Treasures (Jatika Vasthu). These are state-owned institutions, and even if they are making billion-dollar losses, are still very much National Treasures.

The term ‘National Treasures’ was first heard of when the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, unable to pay back the billion-dollar foreign debt incurred to China on the construction of the Hambantota Harbour, worked out an agreement to lease it out for 99 years to China. All hell broke loose, with the then Opposition comprising Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) calling out its tens of thousands of agitators to the streets and staging violent demonstrations. The megaphones of the SLPP – Vasudeva and Weerawansa — broke sound barriers , shed copious Sinhala tears and cried ‘Treason’ on the sale of ‘National Treasures’ to foreigners. National treasures in that instance were the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port, the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa international Airport and the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium. Never mind if the harbour had no ships docking in; the airport had no flights coming in or out other than an Ayah Flight to the Middle East and the stadium was 250km away from Colombo. Yet, they were venerated places of Rajapaksa supporters. Even stocking paddy from the province in the stores of the airport was considered a sacrilegious act.

The million — or was it billion — dollar loss generating SriLankan Airline and its subsidiary Mihin Lanka, too, was also a National Treasure even though it served as a taxi service to those that mattered.

The origin of saving the National Treasures can be traced to the Yahapalanaya government led by the UNP which accused the Rajapaksa government of ‘selling out the country’s sovereignty’ to China. Highways were being constructed from Matara to Jaffna through Colombo, hitherto inaccessible byways and by roads were opened up and rubber carpeted. The Chinese were creating a new port city in the sea off Galle Face Green, all on loans from China at commercial rates of interest. And the former Army Headquarters premises located by Galle Face was sold to the Hong Kong-based Shangri-la Hotel a company.

Impressive were the some of the massive projects to Rajapaksa government supporters although some people did not seem to be as impressed and the slogan of selling the sovereignty of Sri Lanka or Sri Lanka itself appeared to have made much impact. And when Rajapaksas went to the polls showcasing China-built products but were defeated, it was unbelievable—a RAW conspiracy.

The UNP slogan ‘Selling our sovereignty’ was turned around by the Rajapaksas with savvy to ‘Selling National Treasures’– one of the slogans that brought them back to power.

But now the party of the Rajapaksas is in the unenviable position of the Sri Lankan boozer who has gone over his limits and realises: Dhang apey arrakku apitama gahanawa (Our own arrack is hitting us hard right now). The slogan ‘Selling National Treasures’ has boomeranged.

Trade unionists, monks and fellow travellers who took to the streets against the Yahapalanaya government with the Pohottuwa Party, are now coming out strongly against the sale of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo Harbour to a conglomerate with an Indian company holding 49 percent of the shares. They see strong similarity between leasing out the Hambantota harbour and the 49 percent Indian stake in the Eastern Container Terminal.

Strong denials by the brothers, President Gotabaya and Premier Mahinda, that it is not a ‘sale’ and that the Government would have full control of the port are not making headway. The argument is: How could that be when the Indian company owns 49 percent of shares?

Does this locking of horns between the leadership of the ruling party with its own vociferous supporters indicate that the inevitability of politicians not being able to fool all the people, all the time, being reached?

History of Lanka’s politics shows that in the past two decades, the party installed in power on winning an election has much consolation in looking back at follies of the opposition party when in power. It is a defence of their own mistakes and deceit. ‘What did you do when you were the rulers’, is the standard rebuttal for their own impotence.

The issue of periodic repetition on ‘Selling of sovereignty’ and ‘Selling National Treasures’ is one example of the tragi-comedy that has been enacted for two decades. For whatever reasons, Sajith Premadasa’s SJB is going soft on the Indian company’s 49 percent of shares.

Those chest thumping nationalists and patriots should realise that however ‘great’ they imagine Sri Lanka is and her past was, the hard fact is that economically this country is on its last legs.

Didn’t we have to wait, hat- in – hand, for the Covid 19 Vaccine from India and China because we did not have the financial clout to place our orders with international manufacturers although Sri Lankans were succumbing to the disease in alarming numbers?

Our national enthusiasts claimed they breasted the tape as winners last year in the Covid Race. True, we did fairly well in controlling the disease but the Covid Race appears to be that of many laps and last year was only the first. Now we are being overlapped by many others. The so-called Minuwangoda cluster that had its origins in India and brought over here by Lankans is threatening all regions of the island.

Since the Government has declared national security as its top priority and the ultimate security for a citizen is that of survival, it could be ensured by devoting the required amount for vaccination of all citizens in need from the Rs. 23,250 mn allocated for defence in the 2021 budget.

Yet, most of us in this blessed land are optimists. Some point out to reports of ‘gold deposits being discovered in Seruwila’. There are periodic reports are likely that oil and gas have been struck in the Palk Strait off the coasts of Mannar. Recent reports also speak of rare radioactive minerals being detected in some islands off the coast of the Jaffna peninsula. And geopolitical strategists studying maps of the Indian Ocean, noting the strategic location of Sri Lanka while also considering our Neutral Non Aligned foreign policy and pointing out that it will only be a matter of time before world powers will rush in not only with Covid vaccines but with Direct Foreign Investments as confidently predicted by some economists.

Considering all that and providing our Cops hunting treasure hunters hand over the priceless items recovered as well as the government find ways of making billions from the narcotics seized by cops. Sri Lanka would indeed be a Treasure Island and singing:

Tens of thousands dead in a Covid Chest

Yo-ho-ho and bottles of Damick’s honey.


(Gamini Weerakoon was the editor of The Sunday Island, The Island  and former consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.