Okay, so troubles lie ahead. We have a government of sorts and a cabinet that is out of sorts. As though we are not a bankrupt nation we appoint ministers and state ministers as if they are imperative to national resuscitation and there is enough money to splash on such a third eleven. From where [...]


Things fall apart and the rot sets in


Okay, so troubles lie ahead. We have a government of sorts and a cabinet that is out of sorts. As though we are not a bankrupt nation we appoint ministers and state ministers as if they are imperative to national resuscitation and there is enough money to splash on such a third eleven.

From where President Rajapaksa found this lot would surely have raised a million eyebrows in Gotagogama and beyond.

Some believe he might have consulted Sri Lanka Cricket’s national selectors.

I doubt that, for most of these newly sworn in lot would have been retired even before they could pick up a bat.

Rather, there had been many empty barrels lying around these days with nothing to fill them with — not even cattle manure that would have turned our agriculture green with envy.

So scraping their bottoms was no hard task. After all meritocracy does not enter this equation though the nation was promised it would be a necessary criterion for selection to high posts.

Perhaps, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who promised this as a must in the selection process before a mesmerised 6.9 million people crowned him the new “Raja” dropped the thought then and that is as unnecessary as a human appendix.

Either that or cabinet ranking has been so downgraded in the public eye in recent years that it is no longer considered a high post, expect perhaps by former Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal who got himself raised to cabinet level- at least in the precedence table.

Now it does not matter as the ex-governor would have to bring up the rear if ever invited to the big events. So he will have more spare time to engage in what seems his favourite pastime — tweeting away to one twit or the other as that nutty tweetaratsi Donald Trump used to do at the break of dawn each day.

Of course, Cabraal could keep in daily contact with the rest of the official cabal that has been named by ministers who have suddenly awakened from their slumber, to bequeath them with the dubious title of Grand Masters of today’s economic catastrophe.

After ridding himself of his over-paid and under-worked platoon of ministers, some of whom apparently commandeered enough state vehicles to serve an entire household save the kussi amma, and gathered other perks and privileges including exclusive subsidised meals at the parliament’s cafeteria, President Rajapaksa sought a young enough cabinet hoping to satisfy the call of many protesters resident at what they have name “Gotagogama”.

Anyway meritocracy was of no concern. If it mattered it was more in word than deed and was jettisoned even before it could figure as a criterion just like other pre-election promises such as turning national agriculture “green” over a 10-year period.

Instead of the country’s crops turning green in the fields, they turned yellow and the farmers turned red on hearing of the overnight ban on chemical fertilizers.

The president was looking for a young batch as demanded by the people. Well they are young enough.

At least one of them has just touched 40 from what I have read, and in most sports it would have been retired and put to grass.

But this is politics no, and money does not matter. Either it can be printed at home or pulled out of some safety deposit vault in some foreign bank.

As for dealing with foreign currency one could always ask a helpful niece or a cousin who led a good life in the good ole US of A until the Feds got after him.

Never mind though, we seem to have enough moola to go around. Our new Governor of the Central Bank and Cabraal’s successor, insists the country is not bankrupt and calls it a “pre-emptive default.”

What’s in a name as Shakespeare said. That which we call a pohottuwa smells, I suppose, like a ship load of Chinese organic manure.

In fact one might well ask the thousands of protesters who continue to reside at Galle Face Green and trade unionists of various shades and sizes on strike in Colombo and elsewhere last Thursday who find the Sri Lankan politicians a stinking lot.

That is not to say that all politicians are crooked. There are surely many incorruptible ones who have never dipped their finger into state funds, fiddled around with government contracts, inflated costs of state purchases even higher than our cost of living, allowed their relatives and cronies get state jobs to fill their deep pockets with the assets of the people who voted for them, and a myriad other crimes.

But such honest men and women are few and far between and if this country proceeds on this same path it will not be long before such politicians become an extant breed.

Politics here is such a dirty game that match fixing really started in the hallowed ministerial offices and elsewhere long before bookies and fixers made their appearance on the playing fields. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours is a motto long etched on politicians backs.

That is why a new generation of Sri Lankan youth have risen like Lazarus from the debris of our political culture and rubbish that is constantly churned out and promised to the people.

Swearing-in his third cabinet reshuffle since coming to power, President Rajapaksa told the old and the new ministers that the institutions under them should be “free of corruption” and they should provide an “honest, efficient and clean service.”

That such platitudinous advice should be offered 2 ½ years after assuming office is itself a huge joke for corruption had spilled over from the earlier regime and multiplied severalfold. But little or nothing was done to ensure transparency and accountability.

Furthermore little was done to deal with corruption within. Instead the public witnessed the appointment of presidential commissions, one of which cleared those who had been found guilty by the courts or were already facing various charges including corruption.

Encircled today by protesters drawn from the country’s multi-ethnic and multireligious society and of all ages and professions, the Rajapaksas and their faithfuls keeping harking back to the mandates they received from the people in 2019 and a year later which, they claim, are still valid.

That surely is a hollow argument. Such mandates are not a permanent verity. Public responses and public intentions are determined by circumstances- political, economic and social.

If the mandate remains valid for the rest of the term of office and that public perceptions had not changed, how is it that Mahinda Rajapaksa who won a landslide victory for a second term in 2010 was defeated when he called an election two years before his time in 2015? If the mandate logic is valid then Mahinda Rajapaksa could have claimed he had two years more to go for that was the mandate he had received from the people.

The error in the Rajapaksa thinking is in believing that their contribution to defeating the LTTE and ending a long enduring war would be a permanent vote winner.

But the 2015 election proved that fallacious. It would be helpful if they draw a lesson from history. Winston Churchill who provided the strength and backbone to the British people’s resistance against Hitler’s Nazi blitzkrieg that might have overcome Britain, lost the very first parliamentary election held in the country.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa also capitalised on the Easter Sunday jihadist attack to pitch himself into politics and an election victory which might not have happened had it been an even playing field where national security did not suddenly turn crucial.

Today’s generation that has now been lodged for days at that new village that has emerged from the current political-economic mess, is trying to remind Sri Lanka’s ambitious politicians the words of Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)


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