Wednesday 2nd December, 2020
The recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Prof. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has shocked the civilised world and been rightly condemned as a dastardly act of terrorism. His killers left no clues as to their identities. Iran has blamed the US (which it calls ‘Global Arrogance’) and Israel. Its indignation is understandable.
Those who had Prof. Fakhrizadeh assassinated may have sought to demoralise Iran and scuttle its nuclear programme, but they seem to have only strengthened Tehran’s resolve to achieve its goal. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, no doubt, is an unnervingly frightening proposition, but the question is whether those who are all out to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambitions have cared to set an example by suspending the production of their nukes.
Most of the nuclear capable countries are run by bloodthirsty hawks who have engineered many wars and caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to be killed elsewhere. The world cannot be any more dangerous even if other states acquire nuclear capability. Nukes in the hands of any nation are dangerous. Those who already have huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which are capable of blowing the planet several times over, will be without any moral right to try to prevent others from producing nukes so long as they do not decommission theirs and act responsibly without abusing their military might to dominate and exploit the world.
The non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is the goal the world must strive to achieve, but assassinating nuclear scientists is certainly not the way to set about it. Given the present global order, where might is right, for all practical purposes, it is only natural that the countries whose sovereignty and independence are threatened by meddlesome nuclear powers are trying to arm themselves with nukes. Iran is not alone in doing so. One may recall what Charles de Gaulle famously said: “No country without an atomic bomb could properly consider itself independent.”
Gone are the days when the US had the run of the world, so to speak. Now, it has formidable opponents. Try as it may, it cannot frighten China into submission either economically or militarily or otherwise, and Russia is also emerging powerful. The US and China are evenly matched in most respects so much so that the former has had to look for new allies or lackey states to retain its dominance of the international order. Worse, it has had to talk to the Taliban in a bid to wriggle out of the Afghan imbroglio. About a decade or so ago, who would have thought the US would ever negotiate with terrorists?
The world is changing fast, and so are geo-political dynamics and realities. The world history is replete with instances of mighty empires crumbling. The sun finally set on the British empire. Uncle Sam will show a clean pair of heels, given half a chance in Afghanistan, and has failed to humble the ‘Little Rocket Man’, who cocks a snook at Washington, at every turn, from his hermit kingdom. Those who are riding piggyback on the US or other powerful countries and resorting to aggression against their enemies had better be mindful of this reality, and act responsibly.
Iran should be dealt with diplomatically and must not be driven into a corner. Washington should not have withdrawn from the so-called Iran nuclear deal and opted for hostile action. President Donald Trump, who made that mistake, is on his way out, and how his successor, Joe Biden, widely considered a sensible leader, will handle the Iran issue is not clear.
One can only hope that Iran, which has not chosen its enemies wisely, will remain unprovoked in spite of its unbearable loss, desist from retaliation, which may be exactly what its enemies are waiting for, and deny the perpetrators of the dastardly crime of assassinating its much-revered scientist the pleasure of having a casus belli.
EC chief tells home truth
Thursday 30th June, 2022
Some Opposition politicians would have the public believe that the present crisis cannot be resolved unless a general election is held. They insist that they can save the economy and deliver the people from suffering if they are given a popular mandate to govern the country. There is hardly anything Sri Lankan politicians do not capitalise on, and therefore it is not surprising that they are making the most of the crisis. Chairman of the Election Commission (EC) Nimal Punchihewa has told them a home truth.
We have quoted the EC chief as saying that action must be taken to ensure that people’s basic needs are fulfilled before an election is held, for the public mood is not conducive to an electoral contest. One could not agree with him more. Even when there are no shortages of essentials and other such deprivations, people tend to turn aggressive and their tempers flare during election campaigns. How bad the situation will be in the event of the country having to go to the polls at this juncture is not difficult to imagine.
What the EC Chairman has not said is that people are so incensed that many politicians’ lives will be in danger if they come out for electioneering.
It will not be possible to hold an election in the foreseeable future owing to various shortages. The fuel crisis has crippled both public and private sectors. Schools have already been closed save those in some rural areas, and hospitals remain partially open with doctors, nurses and other health workers waiting in endless queues to obtain fuel. Teachers engaged in evaluating the GCE O/L answer scripts have run into difficulties for want of fuel. How can an election be held, given these conditions?
Some Opposition parties are labouring under the delusion that they will be able to sweep to victory if an election is held soon because the ruling SLPP has cooked its goose. But the entire Parliament has incurred the wrath of the public, who will not be so stupid as to vote overwhelmingly for any political party again. The economic crisis will not go away anytime soon and is bound to trouble a future government as well if an election is held before it is brought under control.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has torn into the government, which, he says, is using the crisis as an excuse to sell state assets. He has said legal action would be instituted against the culprits under an SJB administration. But protests alone will not prevent the current government leaders from striking questionable deals with foreign governments and firms. They are ready to do whatever it takes to save their skins and will not hesitate to compromise the national interest. They have already cut several shady deals with foreign companies in the power and energy sectors, and the only way to stop them is to extricate the country from their clutches.
If Premadasa is genuinely desirous of saving state assets, then he should join others in taking over the government. Many are the things that need to be done before the next election. The 21st Amendment has to be passed. The Parliament Election Act must be amended to prevent political parties from filling the National List vacancies with persons other than those whose names are submitted to the people before a general election. A constitutional provision must be introduced to enable post-enactment judicial review of legislation so that bad laws do not become faits accomplis. The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption must be strengthened, and new laws introduced to tackle private sector corruption as well; it must be given back the power to initiate investigations on its own without waiting for complaints. A special probe must be launched to trace and recover stolen public funds which are believed to amount to billions of dollars. There will have to be laws to regulate campaign finance with provision for stringent punishment for noncompliance, and to make it mandatory to present all vital agreements between the state and foreign governments or companies, to Parliament for approval. There are many other such issues that need to be sorted out once and for all before a general election is held.
When incompetence fuels crisis
Wednesday 29th June, 2022
What was feared has come to pass; the country has run out of oil to all intents and purposes. But the government’s lame excuses are not in short supply. It says it will restore the oil supply on 10 July, and until such time fuel will be issued only for essential services. What guarantee is there that enough dollars will be raised within the next two weeks for fuel imports? Are we being made to wait for Godot? It is very likely that on 09 July the government will ask for two more weeks to make fuel available.
Now that the government has closed the country owing to its inability to make fuel available, the question is whether it has any moral right to stay in power. Its leaders have only demonstrated their incompetence and shamelessness. If they continue to be in power, they will inflict far worse damage on the country. They are already conducting a fire sale of state assets, and all out to deprive the country of its energy sovereignty; they have invited multinational oil companies to commence operations here. Some of them will laugh all the way to foreign banks.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to have ordered that dollars be released for fuel imports urgently. Whom is he trying to fool? He cannot be unaware that there aren’t enough dollars for fuel purchases. Is he trying to deflect criticism by issuing such directives? The SLPP government bankrupted the country by stealing public funds, slashing taxes, granting massive pay hikes to some categories of public sector workers, throwing money around in the name of pandemic relief, and using forex reserves to defend the rupee in vain, despite repeated warnings from the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry officials. Various rackets such as the sugar tax scam have also taken their toll on the economy. The country is therefore without enough dollars to pay for essential imports including fuel, and there is no way either the Central Bank or the Finance Ministry could find foreign currency for fuel imports in a hurry simply because the President asks them to do so. Perhaps, the only way to pay for fuel imports immediately is to make the corrupt government politicians who have helped themselves to public funds, all these years, return part of their ill-gotten wealth hidden overseas.
SJB MP Champika Ranawaka has flayed the government for the fuel crisis. He has said the country’s image will have to be repaired before foreign assistance is sought. It will not be possible to overcome the present crisis so long as failed politicians continue to be in top posts, he has said. One cannot but agree with him. He is one of the few Opposition members capable of strategic thinking although he was a member of the failed yahapalana government. He has said he is willing to be actively involved in crisis management if a truly multi-party, interim government is formed with a timeframe set for a general election. He would have been able to take over the Power and Energy Ministry if the SJB had accepted the President’s offer to form a government, last month. He and other SJB MPs should have brought pressure to bear on their leader Sajith Premadasa to form a caretaker government together with other parties. They should do so, at least now. A new interim government may not be able to contain the crisis overnight, but it will help prevent the likes of Basil Rajapaksa from manipulating ministers to compass his ends. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is at the mercy of the Rajapaksa family, which controls the SLPP. The incumbent administration is a collective of self-seeking strange bedfellows who are willing to further the interests of the Rajapaksa family; the sooner it is got rid of, the better. That will be half the battle in managing the crisis.
Meanwhile, the government ought to find ways and means of holding racketeers at bay to ensure that fuel to be imported will be dispensed in an equitable manner. It has to devise a rationing system to prevent hoarding. Otherwise, a part of the next fuel shipment will also end up on the black market via hoarders’ dens, and the ordinary people will be left without petrol, diesel or kerosene.
Lanka’s crisis and NATO leaders
Tuesday 28th June, 2022
The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government has proved that it is incapable of controlling the runaway economic crisis, which has taken a turn for the worse with pumps running dry at most filling stations. Neither President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nor Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe nor Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera knows when or whether the next fuel shipment will arrive. The country is grinding to a halt for want of fuel. Schools have been closed, and many other state institutions including hospitals are on the verge of closure. The day may not be far off when the food supply chain also collapses, and food riots erupt.
Instead of finding solutions to the power and energy crises, the government has resorted to the divestiture of state assets. It has already agreed to hand over an unspecified number of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation filling stations to the Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) if what Minister Wijesekera has recently told the media is any indication. He has admitted that the LIOC influenced the government decision to effect the latest fuel price hike. The Electricity Act has been amended to allow India’s Adani Group to construct a wind power plant. The government has also cut a questionable deal with a US company over the Yugadanavi power station. The country is thus losing control over the power and energy sectors while the Rajapaksas are wrapping themselves in the flag and bellowing rhetoric.
Sri Lanka finds itself in the current predicament, defaulting on foreign debt and begging for dollars because of its NATO (No Action Talk Only) leaders. President Rajapaksa summons experts and treats them to long lectures instead of learning from them. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has become a crisis commentator, as it were; he gives ball-by-ball commentaries with ominous warnings thrown in for good measure. Minister Wijesekera is all at sea, and most other ministers are a bunch of somnambulists. Opposition top guns are laying it on too thick.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa would have us believe that the world is eagerly waiting for the formation of an SJB government to help straighten up the Sri Lankan economy. Speaking at a ‘Project Leopard’ event in March, he declared that three West Asian countries had agreed to supply fuel at concessionary rates to Sri Lanka for two years under a future SJB government. If so, the blame for untold hardships the people are undergoing owing to the fuel crisis should be apportioned to the SJB, for it spurned an opportunity to form a government last month. Premadasa turned down President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s invitation to take over as the Prime Minister. He remained intransigent, demanding that the President step down. Subsequently, he had a change of heart, but the President had already decided to appoint Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. However, it’s never too late, as they say.
JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has declared over the weekend that his party is capable of saving the battered economy and granting the people much-needed relief. He wants the reins of government offered to the JVP on a platter for that task to be accomplished. It was only the other day that he said his party was ready to join others in making a concerted effort to resolve the ever-worsening economic crisis. At the same time, it is pushing for a general election!
Supposing Parliament resolves to hold a snap general election, will any Opposition party be able to form a strong government? The SLPP is bound to suffer a humiliating defeat, come the next election; it is in fact the political version of a dead man walking, but the possibility of the next Parliament being hung cannot be ruled out. Political instability will continue to elude the country in such an eventuality. IMF assistance will be further delayed in the event of a general election being held before the end of this year. So, the best time for all the parties that claim to be able to help the country overcome the crisis to walk the walk is now. The current administration has failed and has to step down. If the SJB helps others, especially the SLFP and the SLPP dissidents, to form a truly multi-party interim administration, joins it and brings down the promised oil shipments at concessionary prices, besides helping enlist international support, the country will gain tremendously. Soapbox oratory will not do.
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