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Editorial

Donations tainted with politics

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Wednesday 15th September, 2021

The Chinese Embassy in Colombo is reported to have handed over a consignment of medical equipment to the UNP for distribution among the state-run hospitals. China has made the donation at the request of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, we are told. It defies comprehension why any foreign government should hand over medical equipment, meant for the Sri Lankan public, to local political parties instead of the Health Ministry. As a popular Sri Lankan saying goes, why should a donkey be entrusted with a task that is best left to a dog?

What are the criteria that China adopts in determining the eligibility of Sri Lankan political parties to handle some of its donations to Sri Lankans? There are 70 registered political parties in this country, and 15 of them are represented in Parliament. What if all of them, or the ones with parliamentary representation, ask for medical equipment from the Chinese government to be handed over to the government hospitals and gain some political mileage? Will China oblige? If not, why? Is it that kissing goes by favour? (China got a port from a UNP-led government, didn’t it?)

China has been looking after Sri Lankan politicians very well, as is public knowledge, and therefore does not have to do anything more for them. It offers junkets even to the local government members. But for the pandemic, by now, all the MPs and most local councillors would have been to China on pilgrimage. Even the most vociferous critics of China in Parliament have no qualms about benefiting from the Chinese largesse.

Political parties should not be allowed to gain political mileage from donations that come from the people of other countries to their Sri Lankan counterparts. It is an affront to the kind-hearted foreigners for their donations to be tainted with partisan politics at this end. When foreign governments make donations through local political parties, they are seen to be helping further the agendas of the latter. Is it fair for foreign governments to use their taxpayers’ money for such purposes?

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Politicians!

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MP, is raking Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa over the coals for having asked the government to hold a snap election. Those who call for elections while people are dying of Covid-19 need psychiatric care, Dissanayake has declared. True, there is absolutely no need for an election at this juncture, and the country’s top priority should be fighting the pandemic, and everything else can wait. But Premadasa should not be singled out for criticism; all politicians see opportunities in crises. If the present-day leaders had been in the Opposition today, they would also have asked for an election; they made the most of a national security crisis in 2019 to floor the yahapalana government and capture power.

The JVP is not acting out of principle when it opposes Premadasa’s call for polls; it is scared of facing elections. It, however, has a history of trying to topple a government while the country was in a bigger crisis. It joined forces with others in a bid to defeat the Rajapaksa administration’s budgets in 2007 and 2008 while the country’s war against the LTTE was raging. Had they succeeded in their endeavour, the government would have fallen, and an election would have had to be held; Prabhakaran would have been given ample time to have international pressure ratcheted up on Sri Lanka to halt or abandon military operations against the LTTE; the armed forces, too, would have been greatly demoralised in such a situation.

In this country, politicians think of everything in terms of elections. It is said that a politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation. Sri Lanka’s biggest problem is that it has not had statespersons.



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Editorial

Hunter’s gun

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Friday 14th June, 2024

The US presidential race has taken another dramatic turn with a federal jury finding President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, guilty of having illegally purchased and possessed a gun while being addicted to crack cocaine. A sentencing date has not yet been set. The offence carries a prison term. Hunter is reportedly considering an appeal. A life of debauchery is dogging him.

No sooner had Hunter’s guilty verdict been announced than President Biden declared that he accepted the outcome of the case and respected the judicial process. His reaction was in sharp contrast to that of his rival, former President Donald Trump, who claimed a felony trial that led to his conviction had been rigged. However, Biden only made a virtue of necessity. There is no way he can be critical of the verdict at issue, which came close on the heels of Trump’s felony conviction, which the Democrats have welcomed.

It was ironic that Biden, who gained politically from Trump’s conviction in the presidential race, happened to hug his convicted son in public on Tuesday. Never had a US President, former or serving, been found guilty of felony before Trump’s conviction. Similarly, Hunter is the first child of a US President to be convicted of a federal crime.

President Biden lost no time in declaring that he would not grant a pardon to his son convicted of three federal gun crimes. He cannot afford to do otherwise, with the presidential election only a few months away; the Republicans are all out to destroy him politically.

Pardoning his son is a surefire way to ruin his chances of re-election. However, the White House has not ruled out a potential commutation for Hunter. But such action will entail a huge political cost for Biden. Perhaps, a commutation could prove as costly as a pardon politically.

The two convictions at issue are sure to figure heavily in the debate to be held between Trump and Biden soon. However, opinion is divided on the potential impact they will have on the campaigns of the two candidates. The Democrats claim that following Trump’s conviction, Biden has picked up a few points, especially in the battleground states, but political analysts point out that these increases in his approval rating are within the margins of error and therefore negligible. The Republicans insist that there has been an uptick in their fundraising since Trump’s conviction, which the former President has succeeded in monetising, so to speak.

Biden, however, stands accused of having leveraged his political positions to help his son, Hunter, in the past. In 2016, it was alleged that he, as the US Vice President, had engineered the ouster of the then Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin, who had launched a probe into Burishma Holdings Ltd., a Ukrainian energy company, which had Hunter on its board of directors and paid him a princely salary. There were several such controversies involving Hunter’ foreign business interests while his father was the Vice President.

Trouble, however, is not over for Biden. Hunter will face another trial in September for not paying taxes in 2017 and 2018. The hearing is sure to grab media attention and be another disconcerting distraction for Biden.

The US is no respecter of international laws and conventions, but the guilty verdicts against Trump and Hunter, and a nascent impeachment inquiry against President Biden have demonstrated that its domestic systems are stronger than individuals, however powerful they may be politically or otherwise, and therein lies the real strength of the American democracy, unlike in countries like Sri Lanka, where politicians and their kith and kin are above the law, and can amass ill-gotten wealth and even have their rivals murdered with impunity.

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Editorial

Machiavellian duplicity

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Thursday 13th June, 2024

It appears that President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa and JVP/NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake are taking part in a promise-making competition, as it were, in the North and the East in a desperate bid to secure the support of the TNA and other Tamil political parties for their presidential election campaigns. They have been stumping those parts of the country aggressively during the past few weeks.

Besides offering to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully and enhance devolution, Wickremesinghe and Premadasa are providing material assistance to the public in the North and the East obviously with an eye to the upcoming presidential election. The President has been allocating public funds with a generous hand for developing the North and the East as if he were spending his own money for that purpose. Dissanayake has sought to trump his opponents’ bid to woo the TNA and others; in what could be considered a major about-turn on the part of the JVP, he has reportedly offered to go beyond the 13th Amendment in resolving ethnic issues in case of his victory in the upcoming presidential race. He has provided grist to his political opponents’ mill.

The TNA has been wise enough to urge the ‘promising’ presidential candidates from the South to sound the majority community out on their pledges. It has adopted a pragmatic approach; devolution is a contentious issue, and political solutions based thereon require the backing of the majority community to reach fruition. Southern politicians have earned notoriety for reneging on their election promises to all Sri Lankans, and it is only natural that nobody takes them seriously.

There has been a mixed reaction to Dissanayake’s U-turn on devolution. The JVP plunged the country into a protracted bloodbath in a bid to scuttle the Indo-Lanka Accord, the 13th Amendment, and the establishment of the Provincial Councils (PCs) in the late 1980s. It brutally gunned down those who tirelessly campaigned for evolving a political solution to the ethnic problem through devolution. They included Vijaya Kumaratunga and many other leftists. The sea change in the JVP’s policy has been welcomed by the proponents of devolution, as a positive change, but the JVP/NPP will have its work cut out to convince the public that it is not driven by Machiavellian duplicity.

Interestingly, in 2000, the UNP and the JVP jointly torpedoed President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s constitutional reforms Bill aimed at establishing regional councils besides restoring the parliamentary system of government. Kumaratunga said the UNP had pledged its support for the Bill. The Opposition MPs literally set the Bill on fire in the House, claiming that Kumaratunga had inserted some transitional provisions without their consent. If she had done so, they could have sorted out that issue through talks without burning the Bill. It was clear that they shot down her constitutional reform package for political expediency. Now, they are offering to devolve more powers!

It is a supreme irony that President Wickremesinghe, Premadasa and Dissanayake have, at discussions with the TNA, undertaken to hold the much-delayed PC polls. All of them were instrumental in postponing the PC elections in 2017. The UNP with Premadasa as its Deputy Leader at the time, the JVP and the TNA together passed an amendment to the PC Elections Act to put off the PC polls indefinitely. The PCs have been functioning without elected representatives for the last seven years or so. They are currently under Provincial Governors appointed by the President, who also controls the dissolved local government institutions through the Governors. Thus, he has all three tiers of government—Parliament, the PC and the local government authorities under him. He is running a one-man show. Shouldn’t the UNP, its offshoot, the SJB, the JVP and the TNA apologise to the people for what they have done to the PCs?

The JVP finds itself in a contradiction, a huge one at that. Having played a pivotal role in mobilising the masses to oust popularly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over his economic crimes, which sent the country reeling, the JVP, which has committed far worse crimes, such as countless murders and destruction of public assets worth billions of rupees, in the name of an ill-conceived mission to defeat Indian expansionism, abort the 13th Amendment and sabotage the PC system, is now asking the public to buy into its untested claims and elect its leader as the President! This, it is doing without ever so much as tendering an apology for its criminal past!

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Editorial

Playing ball, the govt’s way

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Wednesday 12th June, 2024

Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy is not solely economic or financial; it is multisectoral as evident from the steep decline in standards, inefficiency, corruption and even dysfunctionality affecting other spheres. It has not even spared men’s cricket, which is fast losing its status as the de facto national sport owing to the players’ consistently poor performance and public resentment towards the cricket administration, which has become a metaphor for corruption.

Unfortunately, the only thing dazzling about Sri Lankan cricketers these days is the on-field display of their elegant gold jewellery. Former World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who has famously said the rot in Sri Lanka’s cricket set in, the day cricketers started playing for money, stands vindicated.

Sports Minister Harin Fernando is drawing heavy flak for having issued a controversial gazette, seeking to enable the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) President and Secretary to remain in their positions for eight years and thereafter serve as Executive Committee members. The SLPP-UNP government is currently in the extension mode, as it were. It has reportedly granted service extensions to some defence bigwigs and is all out to extend the term of the incumbent Attorney General. The UNP has not given up its efforts to extend President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s term by postponing the upcoming presidential election.

The SLC is running a parallel government to all intents and purposes. It has emerged so powerful that it can have any Sports Minister who refuses to toe its line sacked at will and a person of its choice appointed to that post. Fernando, who is known for his willingness to play ball with cricket panjandrums, got the Sports portfolio following the expulsion of Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe from the Cabinet for taking on corrupt cricket administrators, who have proved that they are above the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

The SLC is no respecter of anyone or any institution here; it is capable of having ICC bans slapped in retaliation when action is taken to rid it of corruption so that the President of Sri Lanka has to tug his forelock before the self-important ICC Chief in India and tender an apology.

Chief Opposition Whip and SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella has said the Sports Minister Fernando’s gazette has violated a resolution Parliament passed unanimously in Nov., 2023, calling for the sacking of the incumbent office-bearers of Sri Lanka Cricket, but in vain. He has stressed the obvious. Now that Minister Fernando has flown in the face of that parliamentary resolution and thereby caused an affront to the national legislature, what action will Parliament take against him?

Will the Opposition move a no-faith motion against Minister Fernando? Such a move however could prove counterproductive in that the government has enough numbers in the House to scuttle it, and its defeat can be construed as parliamentary approval for Fernando’s gazette. But a no-confidence motion will help expose the MPs who connive with Minister Fernando and his SLC chums to undermine Parliament. An opportunity has presented itself for the government and Opposition MPs to shore up the image of Parliament as well as theirs by joining forces to foil Minister Fernando’s attempt to perpetuate the current cricket administrators’ grip on the SLC.

Kiriella has alleged that the gazette at issue will help the government secure funds for its election campaigns from those who benefit from corrupt cricket deals. That is the name of the game in
Sri Lankan politics. There is said to be no such thing as a free lunch. There are no ‘free’ gazettes either.

One wonders whether some Opposition members are among those who have benefited from the largesse of cricket bigwigs, for those otherwise cantankerous characters have chosen to remain silent on the controversial gazette.

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