Saturday 23rd October, 2021
Sri Lanka is like a mental hospital under an air raid, with doctors and patients running helter-skelter. Those who came to power, flaunting their medals, epaulettes, brass buttons and accoutrements, and promising to bring order out of chaos are all at sea. They seem to have brought chaos out of order. They signal left and turn right, and make numerous U-turns. The Sports Minister goes overseas to attend events of religious significance; the Trade Minister rushes to the airport to receive consignments of fertiliser while the prices of comestibles and other essentials are skyrocketing; the Agriculture Minister is blaming the Opposition for the current agricultural problems, and the Minister of Power is trying to set up zoos instead of power plants. Everyone at the levers of power seems to have got his wires crossed. Scaremongers are having a field day confounding as they do confusion prevailing in the country; with each passing day, they work people up into a frenzy via social media,
People are running around stocking up on essentials. Fuel pumps have run dry due to panic buying, and refilling stations hoarding stocks in anticipation of price hikes. The government issues official statements denying reports of scarcities, but nobody buys into them.
Farmers are protesting against a crippling fertiliser shortage. The Opposition is squawking in Parliament without revealing how they would handle the fertiliser issue if they were in power. Having caused widespread crop losses, the government now claims its agrochemical ban was based on wrong advice. Government politicians who do not know the periodic table from the dining table are giving chemistry lessons to senior university dons! The use of agrochemicals, no doubt, has to be drastically reduced, and organic farming encouraged, but it must be done gradually to avoid shocks.
The present situation has come about owing to a host of colossal blunders the incumbent dispensation had made on all fronts. Immediately after the last presidential election (2019), the government granted tax relief to the wealthy at the expense of the state coffers, and threw money around by way of cash handouts for the people during the first lockdown so as to muster votes to win the general election. Even those who did not need financial assistance were given it for political reasons. Rackets such as the sugar tax scam caused staggering losses to the state. Corruption remains rampant, and those who were in the political wilderness for five years are now making up for lost time. Money printing, which the current administration considers a panacea, has led to huge price increases, which are not reflected in the official inflation rate as figures are massaged.
The first lockdown imposed last year to curb the spread of the pandemic was unnecessarily extended at a massive economic cost, and the government did not care to enforce the quarantine laws properly in the run-up to the last general election (2020) and afterwards. Infection clusters emerged, necessitating travel restrictions, as a result. Health experts’ call for a lockdown during the traditional New Year season in April went unheeded, and the result was an explosive spread of Covid-19 as well as a sharp rise in fatalities. A stitch in time would have saved nine, and many lives, and helped revive tourism, bringing in the much-needed forex. Finally, there was another protracted lockdown, and the country is now gripped by an unprecedented foreign currency crunch, which has compelled the government to raise dollars at the expense of vital state assets.
Thankfully, the ongoing vaccination drive and the costly lockdown have worked, and the country is open again; tourism is showing signs of recovery, we are told. But public health experts are warning of another wave of infections come December because the public is behaving irresponsibly. Religious places are becoming crowded again, and so are buses; health guidelines are not followed at social gatherings. The situation is expected to take a turn for the worse after schools fully reopen. If what is feared comes to pass—absit omen—there will have to be another lockdown, which must be avoided at any cost.
The government, in its wisdom, is trying to introduce a new Constitution and hold the Provincial Council polls. It must get its priorities right. It has to sort out the fertiliser issue urgently to prevent a drop in the national agricultural output. Health regulations and quarantine laws must be strictly enforced to prevent another wave of Covid-19 while wasteful expenditure is curtailed.
C4, Grease Yaka and Trojan horse
Monday 25th September, 2023
Channel 4’s recent programme on the Easter Sunday attacks may have made the Rajapaksas squirm and landed President Ranil Wickremesinghe in an awkward position, but former President Maithripala Sirisena has become an unintended beneficiary thereof. It could not have come at a better time for him; he has had to pay Rs 100 million as compensation to the families of the Easter Sunday terror victims, as per a court order, and the government is coming under increasing pressure to ensure that he faces criminal action for his failure to prevent the 2019 terrorist bombings, which took place when he was the President and Minister of Defence.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), which probed the Easter Sunday attacks, has recommended that criminal proceedings be instituted against Sirisena. He is now at the mercy of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who can have him prosecuted anytime. He has therefore opted to hold out an olive branch to Wickremesinghe, whom he wronged very badly during the latter stages of the Yahapalana rule, and indicated his willingness to support the UNP; he has gone to the extent of ousting his sidekick, Dayasiri Jayasekera, as the SLFP General Secretary for opposing moves being made to bring the UNP and the SLFP together again.
Sirisena however has got one thing right. He has said an international probe into the Easter Sunday attacks will be fraught with the risk of adversely affecting Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, and therefore what is needed is a thorough domestic investigation with foreign assistance and not a full-fledged international probe as such.
It is not possible that Channel 4 (C4) and those who are said to be behind its programme at issue are driven by a genuine desire to have justice served for the Easter Sunday carnage victims, for they had no qualms about backing Tiger terror, which claimed many more lives than the Easter Sunday attacks. Their real intention seems to be creating a precedent for international probes in Sri Lanka in a bid to achieve their goal of having a UN investigation conducted into alleged war crimes against the Sri Lankan military; C4 has craftily woven war crimes allegations into its programme on the Easter carnage. They have succeeded in making even the ardent opponents of the ongoing campaign for an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka support their plan, albeit unwittingly.
The government however must not be allowed to use the possibility of the country having to face a UN war crimes probe, in case of an international investigation being held into the Easter Sunday attacks, to justify its unwillingness to have the carnage investigated afresh. Pressure must be amped up on it to launch a credible domestic probe into the Easter Sunday tragedy that shook the world. The Catholic Church and other campaigners for justice have had to call for an international probe because the unpardonable delay on the part of the government to complete the ongoing police investigations into the carnage, and implement the PCoI recommendations fully, is widely viewed as proof of a grand cover-up.
Sri Lankan politicians are adept at political escapism. They are as slippery as the so-called Grease Yaka (a naked voyeur or burglar, covered in grease, moving about at night), and capable of escaping capture when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Otherwise, by now, most of them would have been behind bars for their crimes. It is thanks to their escape artistry skills that they have avoided prosecution for their serious lapses that enabled the National Thowheed Jamaat terrorists to carry out the Easter Sunday attacks with ease. They have artfully turned the C4 programme to their advantage!
Sirisena has attempted another escape stunt amidst pressure mounting on the government to have criminal proceedings instituted against him in keeping with the PCoI recommendations. He has used the C4 allegations to assail the validity of the PCoI probe and recommendations; his call for a fresh investigation with international assistance is aimed at further delaying the legal and judicial processes pertaining to the Easter Sunday carnage.
When the PCoI final report became public in 2021, we argued that ideally a fresh probe had to be held based thereon, or if the government chose to implement its recommendations it had to do so expeditiously. If a thorough investigation had been launched at that time, it would have been possible to get at the truth and have justice served many moons ago. At least, the PCoI recommendations should have been implemented fully. Instead, the Rajapaksas opted to let the grass grow under their feet and thereby unwittingly helped bolster the claim that they were attempting a cover-up because they had a hand in the terror attacks. An ill repute is said to influence judgments.
How we must play the game
We are all familiar with the famous lines of American sportswriter Grantland Rice that “When the Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not if you won or lost but how you played the game.” Well as far as we Sri Lankans are concerned, we played the game abysmally badly last Sunday when we took on India at the Asia Cup final under overcast conditions at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
The lines quoted above, of course, refers to sportsmanship. We were by no means unsporting and have never been so in the international sporting arena. Where we fell flat on our faces was how badly our team played last week to be scuttled out for a mere 50 runs in 15.2 overs to be trounced by 10 wickets.
The records show that this is not our worst ever performance in the white ball game. In 2012, a team that included greats like Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara, Tilakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews was bowled out for a mere 43 runs in 20.1 overs in South Africa. Given that the most recent defeat came days after a nail-biting victory over Pakistan a few days earlier, it was doubly devastating for Lankan fans who paid an unusually high price – not set by us but by Pakistan hosting the tournament – to witness a debacle.
We have to face the fact that our cricket fans are champion cheer leaders when things go right and are quite the reverse when they go wrong as happened in the game against India last week. However, they are not guilty of torching players’ homes as had happened elsewhere. Allegations like match fixing, without a shred of evidence, abounded over the social media and there were demands that Dasun Shanaka who led our team be replaced as captain.
There is no debate that the cricket administration in the country has in recent year sunk to their lowest depths. This is an admitted fact and some halfhearted attempts have been made over the past decades to correct this situation. Gone are the days when people like Robert Senanayake, the younger son of the late Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, ran the affairs of the then Board of Control of Cricket in then Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka Cricket).
But even then, old timers may remember, when two of the selectors (both good cricketers) picked themselves for the team. Political interventions in cricket have both been for the good like Mr. Gamini Dissanayake winning us the right to play Test cricket and much more and for the bad of which less said the better.
Right now there is very little to be said for the administration and the method of its election. Suffice it be said that Muttiah Muralitharan, our all time great bowler, once said that he could contest any seat in the whole of the country and get elected but it was doubtful that he would get a single vote in a Cricket Board election!
Some on the Interim Boards have been led by unexceptionable people who accepted office not because they hankered for position but because they wanted to do what they could for the game and the country they loved. We’ve had reputed banker, Rienzie Wijetillake, who ran a tight ship and team managers of the calibre of Michael Tissera. There were others like well like Hemaka Amarasuriya and Vijaya Malalasekera. The other side of the coin does not bear examination.
The squad for the 2023 event that will get underway in three weeks’ time is not out yet and we shall know what is to be this time around in a couple of days. On Tuesday, the selectors had met other key stakeholders of the sport and had decided to replace Dasun Shanaka as captain. On Wednesday Dasun visited the High Performance Center at the Premadasa Stadium and had told fellow players that he was quitting. Then he went to Maitland Place for a meeting with the selectors at noon and found that they had made a complete about turn. What prompted the selectors to overturn their original decision? Were there sound cricketing reasons or were they pushed to make the change?
There has been a lot of pressure, inevitably aggravated by out dismal performance on Sunday that the captain, who on his current batting form does not seem to merit a place in the team, must be changed. But as the head coach, Chris Silverwood, said after the recent debacle: “There is much more to being the captain than just scoring runs. Dasun is a very good captain. He is respected by everyone in the dressing room. He understands the players and shows them a lot of love and support and that love and support is returned.”
That’s quite a mouthful. Together with the ground reality that changing the captain at this late stage carries its own considerable downside risk, sensible people will endorse the selectors volte face in going back on their instant reaction to the debacle in the India match. The fans too must realize that lady luck plays a big part in sporting matters. If we had lost the toss and India had chosen to bat as she well might have, events may have rolled in a different direction. However that be, let us give our lads a chance and wish them the very best in India next month. That’s how the game should be played.
Of that nasty set-to
Saturday 23rd September, 2023
Sri Lankan political leaders are known to exude piety from every pore and make it a point to be on their best behaviour when they appear in public. Clad immaculately in white, they speak in a measured tone, pretending that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths and quoting from various religious texts. Perhaps, during parliamentary debates, the Dhammapada is more quoted than the Constitution, or Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice. But these self-righteous worthies show their true colours when they fly into fits of rage. We saw them in action the other day.
Thursday’s parliamentary proceedings descended into a slanging match, with SJB MP and former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and ex-President Maithripala Sirisena trading allegations and insults liberally. The nasty set-to erupted when Fonseka accused Sirisena of having let the Easter Sunday carnage happen despite intelligence warnings in 2019, when the latter was the President.
He got Sirisena’s goat. Springing to his feet, an otherwise mild-mannered Sirisena launched into a tirade against Fonseka, and the duo got down and dirty. They slung mud at each other, presumably in the hope that some would stick, and what we witnessed in the House was like a barney in a shebeen.
Fonseka did not mince his words when he accused Sirisena and ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of having masterminded the Easter Sunday terror attacks with an eye to the last presidential election (2019). He claimed Sirisena had left the country in time for the terror attacks, which, he said, benefited Gotabaya politically and electorally. Sirisena shot back, with guns blazing, letting out a stream of invectives, and in a bid to question the credibility of Fonseka’s assertions, he said Fonseka, as the Army Commander, had failed to protect the Army Headquarters against the LTTE.
Referring to the 2006 LTTE suicide attack inside the Army Headquarters, Colombo, he described how Fonseka had been rushed to hospital in a very serious condition. His speech, replete with gory details of Fonseka’s wounds, was antithetical to civility. Such being the manner in which political leaders try to settle political scores and silence their opponents during parliamentary debates, why election campaigns where they go all out to retain or regain power turn out to be bloody is not difficult to understand.
The irony of Thursday’s venomous exchange between Sirisena and Fonseka may not have been lost on keen political observers. They were comrades in arms in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, where Sirisena, who was the Opposition’s common candidate, came from behind to beat the then sitting President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Fonseka showed praise on Sirisena, and urged the public to vote for the latter to usher in good governance and have their lot improved. He played a pivotal role in the opposition alliance, which made Sirisena’s victory possible against tremendous odds. Sirisena hailed Fonseka as the best warrior Sri Lanka had ever produced and promoted him to the rank of Field Marshal amidst tut-tuts from the discerning public, who questioned the newly-elected President’s wisdom of creating such a high rank.
Thus, Fonseka, who was instrumental in having Sirisena elected President, cannot absolve himself of the blame for the latter’s serious lapses, including those which led to the Easter Sunday attacks, in 2019. Sirisena will have to explain why he elevated to the rank of Field Marshal someone who, he says, could not even protect the heavily-guarded Army Headquarters against the LTTE. They are apparently labouring under the mistaken belief that they can go on duping the public with their claims and counterclaims.
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