If the motley cheer squad of Government MPs and supporters had waited eagerly for Basil Rajapaksa to weave a rosy tale of economic boom for Lanka in his maiden address to Parliament as Finance Minister on Wednesday, they were in for a nasty shock. Instead of kindling hope that the promised vision of prosperity and [...]


Grim vistas of poverty and shortages loom for Lanka


If the motley cheer squad of Government MPs and supporters had waited eagerly for Basil Rajapaksa to weave a rosy tale of economic boom for Lanka in his maiden address to Parliament as Finance Minister on Wednesday, they were in for a nasty shock.

Instead of kindling hope that the promised vision of prosperity and splendour is around the corner, the Finance Minister could only but paint grim vistas of poverty and shortages as he outlined the perilous financial state the nation faced.

Coming as it did from the horse’s mouth, this was bad news: the final official confirmation that things had come to such a pretty pass that the truth could no longer be concealed nor compromised: the candid admission that the time for spinning the yarn that all was hunky dory was long past. The thread had run out and the spool lay bare.

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa made no bones when he declared the economy was in dire straits, with the present severe foreign exchange shortage coupled with a total of Rs. 1.6 trillion in lost revenues due to the COVID pandemic serving to further compounding the crisis.

Indeed, it was a despairing picture he depicted as he gave a detailed account of the nation’s depleted finances. At least, he was frank enough not to lay the blame at COVID’s door but to say that while the pandemic had certainly aggravated the crisis, the astounding losses suffered and why Mother Lanka’s cupboard lay bare was mainly due to wastage, corruption and unnecessary expenditure over the years. The larder was empty because wasters, rogues and spendthrifts had wasted, robbed and squandered the nation’s wealth for years.

He told the House: “We know that our expenditure has always been higher than our revenues. But this year, the loss of revenue so far has risen to nearly Rs. 1.6 trillion more than estimated. Our income comes from three main sources: the Customs, Excise and Inland Revenue. They have all shown minimal returns.”

So how does the nation climb out of this gaping loss pit to suck the nectar dripping from the honeycomb above? So what’s the solution, the hope of ever transcending this financial sinkhole?

The Finance Minister sees some hope in getting dollars from the country’s resilient exports and plans to build on it. As for loans, even with gasping breath, it seems the Government jealously guards the semblance of sovereignty it thinks it still holds.  He said the Government would take loans from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank or other lending institutions, but not from donors which attach conditions that impact the country’s sovereignty.

He also presented the controversial Tax Exemption Bill, officially called by its non-descript title Finance Bill, which would allow those with undeclared money here and abroad to invest it here, no questions asked, without fear of prosecution even though it maybe the fruits of massive corruption. Whether allowing scoundrels to use Lanka as their whitewashing laundromat to turn black money white and profit from their corruption, which, the Minister himself said, was one of the prime reasons that have been the ruin of Lanka, is a wise move remains in doubt.

He warned the House of hard times ahead. He said: “We are trying to limit the loans, and imports will be limited to essential needs and only for projects that have a return.”

True to his word, within 24 hours, the Central Bank’s Monetary Board imposed import restrictions on 623 consumer goods. Importers will henceforth have to place a 100 percent cash deposit upfront against the import of any goods on the prescribed list when they open ‘Letters of Credit,’ or has it now been renamed ‘Letters of Cash’?

Some of the goods prescribed are mobile phones, fans, TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, ovens, digital cameras, shirts, tracksuits, swimwear, nightdresses, underwear, socks, rubber tyres, furniture, air conditioners, apples, grapes, oranges, cosmetics, toiletries, perfumes, makeup preparations, beer, wines, cereals, starches, chocolates, cheese and butter.

There is no certainty, however, that even if the 100 percent cash upfront requirement is made, whether the banks will have the dollars to import the goods.

On Wednesday, Basil Rajapaksa also confessed to the House the Government’s impotency to overcome the crisis alone, saying, “We don’t expect to overcome a crisis of this magnitude on our own but hope the Opposition will cooperate to solve it.”

The Opposition must, of course, cooperate in the national interest. But the Government’s call for help must be genuine. If it’s merely to use the Opposition as a reusable rubber stamp for its unilateral ad hoc decisions in a tacky public relations exercise for its own benefit, then it will be nothing more than a cruel sham.

The Government has all the powers it needs and more. The justification has been, these powers are necessary to solve the problems. It has a near two-thirds majority in Parliament with the balance five seats easily obtainable to make the magic two-third replete, and is aptly empowered to steamroll the opposition and enact any laws it wishes. The 20th Amendment passed last year renders the President even more powerful. A state of emergency, with its wide range of powers, is in force.

But has this surfeit of power, this stockpile, this hoarding, this accumulation, this concentration of power in a single receptacle, brought even an iota of benefit to the masses? Perhaps, it is time to start distributing it for the common welfare of all.

Legendary Sunil Perera finally hangs up his hat

Farewell to singer who enthralled Lanka with his music and song 

Last Sunday night, Lanka’s legendary music maestro Sunil Perera finally hung up his hat and retired to the Great Beyond, after a sensational singing career spanning fifty years.

This one man music industry, composer, songwriter, singer and producer Sunil first hit the limelight performing with the Gypsies, the band his father, Anton Perera of Glucorasa fame, set up in 1970 for his five sons, Nihal, Sunil, Nimal, Lal, Piyal and nephew Neville. By the turn of the decade, with hits following smash hits, the Gypsies had become a household name with Sunil established as the livewire leader of the group. The rest is music history.

HAPPY DAYS: Gypsies leader Sunil with the love of his life Ganga, his wife for 38 years

So who was the man behind the song, the real Sunil beneath his hat which had become his signature wear?

Though born and bred a Catholic, he became a free thinker in later years, and embraced all religions hailing them all as one, with only priestcraft creating divisions and discord. He practiced the universal message of love and charity, and preached endless the value of helping those in need.

For him religion was not to be found in churches or temples, in scriptures or sermons from the pulpit, but in the simple act of doing good to another, of lending a helping hand to lift another from his mire.

This was a virtue deeply ingrained in him by his father who told him when he received his first payment for performing with the Gypsies: ‘Whatever money you earn from your performances, keep ten percent aside to help others.’ Throughout his life, Sunil heeded his father’s advice and practiced charity without noise; and advocated all to do the same, be it with money or in kind. ‘Do what you can do to help another,’ he says, ‘and you’ll be blessed.’

What got Sunil’s goat most is Lanka’s dirty politics. An outspoken social critic, he satirised politicians in his songs, lampooning them as being incorrigibly corrupt and thoroughly inept. He reserved his wrath in particular for those who rattle the drums of racism for their own political gain and prevent all races living harmoniously in this island as Sri Lankans.

But while flaying others for their vices, Sunil was the first to admit he was no saint; and has revealed his own warts with complete transparency and candour. Often has he spoken of his marriage to a girl of 15 when he was 30. ‘I guess it was destiny’, he has said, ‘She was 15 years younger, still at school and just 15. I bought a blouse and skirt and left it at her friend’s place. She would go there after school, change into the skirt and blouse and we would go to the movies. We always went to see Tamil films to avoid people we may know’.

‘She was Buddhist, I was a Catholic but that didn’t matter at all. We courted for just 3 months. Later, her father who was in the police filed a complaint and I was nearly charged with child rape. I went to the police station at 4 in the afternoon that day as a bachelor after being summoned.  I was given an ultimatum, either jail or marriage. By the time I returned home at 10 in the night I was married. By the time she turned 20 she already had 4 children. Today she and I have been happily married for the last 38 years.’

But, he admitted, after marriage, he got the 7 year itch and strayed from the marital bed. ‘My wife was deeply hurt and I was in the dog house for many days. But she forgave me. And I vowed I will never hurt the woman I love again. There is nothing more beautiful than when you are in love with your lifelong partner. My marriage is the best thing that happened to me in my life.’

For all the glamour of show business that surrounded him, Sunil, lived a simple life. His simple philosophy was to be honest, speak the truth without fear, be content with what you have, do good to others and you will receive good in return. Referring to himself and wife, he said: ‘Our religion is not going to church or temples but to practice love, kindness and charity.’

Unto the last, even at the pinnacle of his success Sunil remained humble of his achievements. In a televised interview in July this year, he said, ‘My father was my mentor, guru, guide, my teacher. Without him, there would not have been the Gypsies. He set up the band, built the recording studio for us, gave us a ready-made vessel to step into. He was the inspirer and the motivator. None of us had any special talents to speak of, we just went with the flow. I believe in destiny. If things have to happen, they do happen. It may be for your good or bad, but it will happen, nevertheless. This year marks fifty years of the Gypsies. We had planned to celebrate it with a grand concert, but we were unable to do so because of Covid. We intend to do it next year when Covid clears’.

As destiny would have it, the coronavirus intruded to turn awry Sunil’s celebratory plans for his band. After being hospitalized for two weeks, he recovered from his COVID ordeal to return home to his family’s bosom on August 31st. He spent four blissful days at home, even sending a videoed ‘thank you’ message from his recuperating bed to all who had helped him pull through the illness. He had returned home for an encore. It was, however, sadly cut short for he had to keep his date with ordained destiny last Sunday night. As he had discovered during his life, there was ‘Providence in the fall of a sparrow’.

As his mortal remains were consigned to the flames on Monday after his untimely death just eight days short of his 69th birthday, the nation mourned the loss of an extraordinary human being who had not only kept the people entertained for fifty years but had also transcended the divides of his times and expressed home truths in clear and simple terms, laced with his inimitable humour and style.

With the orchestra rising to a crescendo in a final farewell to the singer and his song, play it again, Sunil, in whatever blessed stage you may be on. Play it again, for – as your revered father had always said – the show must go on.

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