This is the trouble when we have too many educated people scampering around bleating we are bankrupt, that soon we won’t be able to buy rice even at a price and all sorts of horror stories which are enough to give even those who voted for Gota (now known universally by that moniker after being [...]


So who says we have no money


This is the trouble when we have too many educated people scampering around bleating we are bankrupt, that soon we won’t be able to buy rice even at a price and all sorts of horror stories which are enough to give even those who voted for Gota (now known universally by that moniker after being told to go home) nightmares.

It was only last year that a former professor of economics at the helm of the Central Bank was feverishly printing money after Gota (used more for convenience than familiarity) was enticed into slashing taxes presumably by another economist who some considered the cat’s whiskers but in more recent months has faded into obscurity though not yet to oblivion.

That Central Bank head was followed by one who was no economist even by a long shot. But his demeanour misled some into believing he was a cross pollination between Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. He continued the unhealthy habit of soiling his hands and kindred souls by printing even more money, probably determined to have his name permanently etched as one who brought Sri Lanka to its knees when there were many other contenders for this dubious accolade.

Now, new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose political resurrection every few years would surely leave Lazarus in perpetual ignominy for his single appearance though he did it in four days while “Ranil Baba”– as we used to call him in more propitious times—took a wee bit longer.

In his first address to the nation—whatever is left of it, that is—he struck a very sombre note about dark days ahead and hinting perhaps that Sri Lankans would have to squirrel away food for the future, what with Gota’s disastrous invasion into the paddy fields of Polonnaruwa and elsewhere was akin to Putin’s “military operation” into Ukraine that is one cause for the threat to global food security today.

But there was another warning that would have sent more than shivers down the spines of state employees whose next salaries are in serious jeopardy-unless the printing presses were switched on again and power and paper available which might take time of course.

While we are hustling friendly and not-so-friendly nations and even those whose guts we hate and multilateral organisations to put their donations into the begging bowls we are passing around, there are some rulers and their political acolytes who think we have plenty of moola to spend.

It was only a couple of months ago that a cash-strapped Government weeping for a few dollars more and appealing to friend and foe to rescue us from our perennial vices, that some Rs 95 million was reportedly spent on independence day celebrations. How much was spent on fuel for fly passes and parading our military hardware has not been announced nor will it ever be.

But who cares as long as we titillate the one dimensional minds of the uniformed kind and promote the lot at every given (or created) opportunity.

We seem to forget that mocking words of old — clean suit empty pocket.

Only the other day Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s frightening words on the state of the economy which is expected to get worse before it gets better (and when will that be — 2 years from now?) were hardly out of his mouth when the new Minister of Urban Development and Housing engaged in glorious promises as his leader had promised in his vistas of prosperity and splendour.

On assuming his new position as government whip, Prasanna Ranatunga referred to the violence unleashed on May 9 and the subsequent condemnable retaliation that resulted in death, widespread arson and destruction of property and told parliament “I will personally intervene to bring justice to all those who lost their homes and properties that got damaged due to the violence which took place on various occasions since 31 March.”

Ranatunga also said that it would be the prime task under his new portfolio as the Urban Development and Housing Minister.

“Protests and violence against the former Prime Minister and the Government began with the attack on the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence in Mirihana on March 31” and reminded all how ministers, MPs and others who were SLPP supporters lost their houses and property.

“Thus, a special programme is being implemented to obtain all the relevant information to treat them with justice,” he said

Ranatunga has moved through three ministries in this short period including the public security portfolio which he held only for some days for which the citizenry would thank the deities and whoever else deserves credit for moving him out including perhaps Gnana Akka whose sense of advertised prescience sometimes tends to desert her. But never mind.

Gota — if one may return to the earlier abbreviation — made several policy and administrative errors in his 2 ½ years at the helm as even former finance minister Mohamed Ali Sabry  tangentially conceded in parliament while PM Wickremesinghe pinned Sri Lanka’s current economic disasters on the Gotabaya administration.

But one of the few wise moves he made was quickly rid the public security ministry of Prasanna Ranatunga along with (the people would hope) ministry secretary retired military officer Jagath Alwis who appointed a three-member committee to hold an impartial inquiry, one presumes, into the Rambukkana death by shooting.

At the time that Ranatunga was promising justice for those who lost property and personal belongings and wealth — which after all will be for his political party colleagues many of whom had already made an irreparable mess of this country and cost the populace dearly — there are others who have been waiting years for justice to be delivered.

At the time that Ranatunga was promising as his first task reparations to his friends and colleagues, there at Gotagogama relatives and friends were remembering Wasim Thajudeen, the former Thomian and national rugby player who died 10 years ago supposedly as a result of a motor accident but later revealed by the CID as murder and subsequently confirmed by medical evidence.

After a decade nothing has come of this accumulated evidence because the finger of suspicion tended to point at an official cover up.

At The Hague in the Netherlands another death — this time of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge some years earlier — was being retold at a hearing of a People’s Tribunal because our own governments seemed to have stopped justice in its tracks.

Yet Ranatunga is quick off the starting blocks to build new houses for his SLPP colleagues. He does not mention where the money is coming from but one suspects it is from the public purse which is empty right now.

Minister Ranatunga’s concern for justice would be gratifying if only it was equally ladled out and at his own expense. Why should the public pay, if it is state funds, to compensate for the victims, who as admitted are SLPP supporters?

(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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