1st June 1997

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Casino crimes

It was perhaps too little too late but still better than never when Lohan Ratwatte was produced before Colombo’s Acting Magistrate in connection with the killing of a foreign ruggerite outside a Colombo Casino.

It took the CID nearly a month to do so and indeed it was the media exposure that pressurised the move to rope in the minister’s son at a time when it seemed that while all are equal before the law some are more equal.

The Casino killing has once again brought to the limelight the rampant evils and the murky goings on both inside these dimly lit casinos and the fallout they can have outside and beyond the confines of these dens.

In the Joel Pera killing, more than 100 men and women have been questioned by the CID which has over the years been the side-kick of the politicians in power. The best thing that could have happened to Lohan — the son of the Deputy Minister of Defence - was for him to have been questioned without the least possible delay. Now the inordinate delay in doing so leaves one with the bitter truth that if you have influence you can get away with anything in Sri Lanka. If you are a nobody, or a somebody but out of grace, then you can be hung for the petty vice of stealing bread.

It is for all these reasons that we said again and again that the more things change the more they remain the same. Governments have changed but it is the same difference we see — which is none at all.

In modern times, governments from North America, across Europe and down to South Asia have not only condoned but fostered casinos as convenient money banks to collect revenue by way of the issue of licences and possibly collect what they can by way of taxes after evasions.

Yet this avidity to enrich government coffers is in more ways than one only a lame excuse and inconsistent with what principles governments should be following. The stark reality as we all know is that casino owners are huge financiers of politicians at the very top and in fact on all sides of the political fence. Evil casino owners, fattened on the takings of the equally rich in society and the more desperate but gullible gamblers lower down the scale, can pump out hard cash in the millions during election time to put up posters, pay for petrol, to carry campaigners and impersonators over miles and generally bank-roll politicos on their way up the ladder. Then come the IOU stage and the ‘licences’ to run these dens of vice and corruption.

If we are to keep this evil business going — as a necessary evil — then there must be some strict gaming commission or some such body that regulates casinos. But the commissions must comprise strong willed independent persons and not lackeys of the minister in charge. Or are we expecting too much? Your bet is as good as ours.

Kuwait quagmire

One of the important lessons of recent history has been the need to maintain a delicate balance between investments in high technology or related areas and investments in human resources.

In this light, we need to ask whether President Kumaratunga’s recent visit to Kuwait with a team of top business people emphasised too much on new investment deals with the oil rich kingdom and too little with the increasingly traumatic situation facing some 110,000 Sri Lankans there, mainly housemaids.

A report says the President held talks with Kuwait Labour Minister and reached agreement on new ways to curb the flow of unskilled Sri Lankans to Kuwait through unauthorised channels. In future visas will be issued only to those who go through registered agencies. The report also made a general statement about improving the welfare of the Sri Lankan workers there.

We are told that some 300 Sri Lankans camp out daily inside the Sri Lankan Mission premises in Kuwait City seeking redress for the serious problems they are facing. These housemaids and other workers send millions of dollars to Sri Lanka and are among our top three sources of foreign exchange. Yet we continue to give them step-motherly treatment with just a passing reference or an occasional show of concern. Many of them are being sold or traded like commodities in a market place. A little more summit level attention would have done them a world of good.

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