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Kings and Queens



Monday 19th September, 2022

An unprecedented gathering of heads of state, and people is expected in London, today, for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who made history and became part of it. Millions of people have waited in a long queue for hours on end to file past her coffin during the past several days. Such is their love for her. The Queen earned the admiration of people across the globe, and it is only natural that the entire world is mourning her death.

While a historic event is unfolding in London, it is time for reflection. The government of Sri Lanka is under fire for having declared a holiday on account of the Queen’s funeral. Its critics argue that the British royal family is a symbol of colonialism, and there is absolutely no reason why the victims of imperialism should make such gestures of respect.

Colonialism cannot be countenanced on any grounds. Former colonial powers have prospered by means of ruthless exploitation, and the wealth systematically robbed from their colonies for decades, if not centuries, constitute the foundations of their current economic empires. The grand plunder provided the colonisers with the capital to leapfrog others, especially during the Industrial Revolution, while their colonies remained mere suppliers of raw materials for their industries. The British monarchy has been a symbol of that ugly past. However, the act of mourning Queen Elizabeth’s death is not tantamount to celebrating colonialism, for two reasons. She presided over the decolonisation process although it may be argued that the UK only made a virtue of necessity by letting go of its colonies, given the capitalist bloc’s fear of the rise of communism, and freedom struggles, especially the one in India. The Queen became a tower of strength for her nation and set an example to the self-proclaimed leaders in other countries like Sri Lanka. Sadly, the only thing our so-called leaders seem to have learnt from her is to cling on to the throne until death!

Monarchism is an anachronism in this day and age. However, the real problem is not the present-day monarchies attenuated by democracy but the fact that some of the popularly-elected leaders try to be monarchs, and ruin their countries, as has been Sri Lanka’s experience.

The British left us in 1948, but the so-called self-rule has made this country a mendicant state, which is begging for funds even from the ‘new states’. Colonialists took away our wealth. Our democratically-elected, patriotic leaders have done likewise; they have stolen public funds to the tune of billions of dollars and stashed them away in offshore accounts, as is public knowledge. People are starving; malnutrition is rampant among children, and the country cannot pay back its debts.

The British destroyed Wellassa (meaning ‘one hundred thousand paddy fields’) in 1818 to crush a rebellion against the empire. They used guns and swords for that purpose. A little over two centuries on, a democratically-elected President, given to wrapping himself in the flag, ruined all paddy fields in the country with a single stroke of his pen! He banned agrochemicals overnight, causing massive crop losses and worsening the pecuniary woes of the farming community. The British built the Trincomalee oil tank farm, but the present-day patriotic leaders who puff out their chests and sing the national anthem with gusto, at the Independence Day celebrations, cannot even effect repairs to these priceless assets, and are shamelessly handing them over to foreigners for a song!

No external powers forced our leaders to undertake the Ozymandian projects which have become huge liabilities and worsened the country’s indebtedness, did they? Former colonial rulers are in no way responsible for the cancerous growth of bribery and corruption, and criminal waste of public funds here.

It is high time the hapless Sri Lankans, who have made the colossal blunder of electing misfits as the rulers and expecting national progress, stopped bashing foreign monarchs and resolved to get rid of their ‘kings and queens’ who have ruined their lives and the future of their children.

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Kekilles in overdrive



Saturday 24th September, 2022

Government politicians are behaving as if the media had done something far worse than the economic crimes they and their leaders have perpetrated against the nation. They are tearing into the media outfits that expose the untold suffering their government has inflicted on the public by bankrupting the country. In Parliament, on Thursday, some government worthies were beside themselves with rage over a story that a poor girl had recently brought some coconut kernel to school for lunch, and teachers had provided her with a decent midday meal. They claimed that the media reports at issue were false, and the principal of the school concerned had said no such thing was ever brought to her notice.

Sri Lankans usually do not believe anything that the media says about governments until it is officially denied. They know that the very opposite of what the powers that be make out to be the truth is true.

State employees are scared of politicians in power and do not dare antagonise the latter, as is public knowledge. The aforementioned school is situated in Minuwangoda, which is Minister Prasanna Ranatunga’s constituency. A few months ago, the Colombo High Court sentenced Minister Ranatunga to two years rigorous imprisonment suspended for five years, and fined him Rs. 25 million, in a case where he had been accused of threatening a businessman and demanding money. (He has appealed against the judgement.) The SLPP parliamentary group has an MP, who summoned a female school principal, abused her in raw filth and made her kneel before him when he was a Chief Minister; he was infuriated because she had refused to carry out an illegal order. Subsequently, the victim gave in to political pressure, and the culprits got off scot-free. One may also recall that during the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, a Cabinet minister tied a public official to a tree as ‘punishment’ for being late for a meeting. The victim chose to grin and bear it. This is a country where a culture of impunity prevails; journalists are harassed or even vapourised for telling the truth; political dissent is violently suppressed; the long arm of the law has become a mere appendage of the government in power, and Justitia unashamedly cosies up to ruling party politicians. So, it is only natural that neither teachers nor the Education Department officials have vouched for the veracity of the news reports about the poor girl who had coconut kernel for lunch.

Having ruined the economy and turned the country into a hellhole, the government is in the same predicament as the proverbial cat which eased itself on a rock; it is making a determined yet futile effort to cover up the mess. The ruling party politicians have gone into overdrive to deny reports of their corrupt deals, rampant malnutrition and other such issues. They have even sought to challenge the reports issued by some UN agencies on poverty, food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition. They have insisted in Parliament that the situation here is not as bad as it is made out to be, but everybody knows that their cock-and-bull narratives are based on stories cooked up by a bunch of stooges in the garb of bureaucrats. Now, they have launched a witch-hunt against whistleblowers. The Health Ministry has initiated an inquiry against President of the Public Health Officers’ Association Upul Rohana, who has revealed that a consignment of Thriposha (a supplementary food item given free of charge to lactating mothers and undernourished children) was found to be contaminated with aflatoxin.

The SLPP politicians have overtaken King Kekille, who according to folk stories, always punished the innocent and spared the wrongdoers whenever he heard cases. He once had a goldsmith punished for a structural fault in a newly-built wall around his palace. On being questioned by the king, the bricklayer concerned said he had been distracted by an attractive woman who had been going past the work site several times a day. The woman, summoned to the royal court, said she had been compelled to make many trips to the goldsmith, who had delayed the delivery of her order. So, the king decided to punish the goldworker.The current rulers must be King Kekille’s descendants.

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Barmecide feast and ‘Lotus heaven’



We are not short of leaders who claim to have laboured tirelessly to achieve national progress. Never do they miss an opportunity to make a public display of their patriotism, and boast of what they call the country’s achievements under their governments. But the abysmal report cards of these worthies have come to light again.

The Professional Forum of Physicians on Medical and Civil Rights (PFPMCR) has made a shocking revelation. It has said that according to the findings of a health survey conducted in the village of Walsapugala, as many as 80% of children there are affected by nutrition disorders with undernutrition and malnutrition among them amounting to 50% and 30% respectively. The plight of these children must have shaken the conscience of every Sri Lankan except those who have been helping themselves to public funds, which could have been used to feed hungry mouths.

The district where Walsapugala is situated is of significance. It is Hambantota, the stronghold of the Rajapaksa family, which has produced Prime Ministers, Presidents and Cabinet ministers. We bet our bottom dollar that no one connected to the Rajapaksas or other wealthy politicians from that area is among the malnourished children of Hambantota. The predicament of the children of Walsapugala represents in microcosm what has befallen the country under successive governments, especially the Rajapaksa administrations.

Hambantota is believed to have benefited from the Rajapaksas’ expensive infrastructural development drive; it boasts an international airport, an international conference hall, an international cricket ground and an international port. The road network there compares with the best in the world. But the living conditions of the people of Hambantota have not improved, at all, if the severe nutrition disorders affecting them is any indication. The same is true of their counterparts elsewhere.

If wasteful expenditure amounting to billions of dollars on useless infrastructural development projects had been curtailed and those funds channelled for agricultural development, children’s nutritional needs could have been taken care of. Many Sri Lankans however seem to enjoy the Barmecide feast their crafty rulers host. The PFPMCR revelation has come while Sri Lankans, troubled by the pangs of hunger, are feasting their eyes on a tall tower in Colombo. They are queuing up near the Lotus Tower to pay for elevator rides to the top of it and take a bird’s eye view of the slums and shanties in Colombo, among other things. A person who visited the tower has likened his experience to a trip to heaven, of all places!

One of the main causes of the current economic meltdown which has led to the prevailing food crisis, soaring inflation and a rise in the rate of malnutrition is heavy borrowings for mega projects that hardly yield any returns but have helped politicians and their cronies enrich themselves. Economic inequality has also contributed to the prevalent nutrition disorders. But those who are at the levers of power do not seem keen to curtail waste, sort out the economy and grant relief to the people. Instead, they are busy feathering their nests. The colony of leeches (read the Cabinet) is expected to expand further.

PFPMCR Chairman Dr. Chamal Sanjeewa has told the media that most schools in the Hambantota District have cancelled morning assemblies because a large number of students faint due to hunger. A similar situation prevails in other districts as well, according to the Ceylon Teachers’ Union.

Many educated, talented youth have already left the country, and others will do so, given half a chance. Long queues are seen near the visa sections of foreign embassies in Colombo. Children are starving and cannot stand erect, much less concentrate on their studies. There is no future for a country which does not care to look after its youth and children. Worryingly, political leaders are busy trying to retain power or regain it; religious leaders are worried about only one thing—the abolition of electricity subsidy for places of worship; business leaders are safeguarding their own interests at the expense of the public, and most people are looking forward to viewing Sri Pada from the top of the Lotus Tower!

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Franchise is the key



Thursday 22nd September, 2022

The government now has another problem to contend with, an unnerving one at that; it is troubled by the prospect of having to face an election, which it is scared stiff of. The Opposition is making the most of the SLPP’s fear of elections; it has gone into overdrive to pressure the government to conduct the much-delayed Local Government (LG) elections. It says the Election Commission (EC) is now in a position to hold the LG polls.

The Opposition’s call for the LG polls has come while the UNHRC is cranking up pressure on the government to hold the Provincial Council (PC) elections, which have been postponed indefinitely. Curiously, not even the ardent proponents of devolution protested when the Yahapalana government amended the PC Elections Act, in 2017, to postpone the PC polls, which it was scared of facing. The TNA, which is calling for the PC polls, voted with the UNP-led government to pass the aforesaid law. The JVP also voted for it. The UNHRC, and the western powers that keep it on a string never so much as tut-tutted when the PC polls were postponed on some flimsy pretext; it is believed that they did not want the Yahapalana government, which was doing their bidding, to suffer a midterm electoral setback. So much for their commitment to protecting democracy!

The Opposition, which was asking for a general election, has now shifted its focus to the LG polls. Perhaps, it has come to terms with the reality that try as it might, it cannot cause a general election to be held anytime soon; only Parliament can accomplish that task, but it is controlled by the SLPP, which fears elections.

Whether the SJB and other Opposition parties will be able to bring enough pressure to bear on either the government or the EC or both of them to conduct the LG polls remains to be seen, but they will be able to gain a great deal of political mileage by undertaking to safeguard the people’s franchise.

There has been a let-up of sorts in anti-government protests due to the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the availability of fuel and cooking gas to some extent. But it is only an interval in hell, if you like.

In times of distress, people tend to pin their hopes on those who make themselves out to be messiahs, and therefore it is only natural that they expected President Ranil Wickremesinghe, whom they had deemed unfit to be even an MP, two years back, to steer the country out of the present crisis. But they are now convinced that it has been yet another false dawn; none of the problems that led to popular uprisings during the past several months have been solved. The food crisis is worsening. Corruption is rampant. The cost of living is increasing, and the number of people affected by food insecurity has risen to 6.3 million, according to the UN. Most of all, the SLPP, which ruined the country, is using President Wickremesinghe to consolidate its power. Some of the rogues responsible for mega corrupt deals, abuse of power and the theft of public funds have secured ministerial posts again, and others of their ilk are expected to be back in the Cabinet soon. There are signs of a wave of public anger forming; it will be far more destructive than the previous ones. Only a clean break with the current regime will help prevent another popular uprising.

It was thought a few moons ago that the economic situation was not conducive to an election owing to the rupee crisis, power cuts, the fuel shortage, etc. But the government seems convinced otherwise; it thinks it can hold a plebiscite, of all things. No less a person than President Wickremesinghe has issued a veiled warning to the Opposition that unless it helps ratify the proposed electoral reforms among other things, he will be left with no alternative but to hold a referendum and have them approved by the people.

The LG elections are usually taken for granted so much so that they have come to be dubbed mini polls or kaanu-bokku (drain-culvert) elections, but this time around, they will assume the same importance as a general election, given the people’s eagerness to give vent to their pent-up anger. The government, which is labouring under the delusion that it can revert to old ways and consolidate its hold on power by suppressing democratic dissent, has to be given an electoral shock. An election will help defuse the build-up of public anger, which is a ticking timebomb. A government that fears elections is a threat to democracy.

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