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No business as usual for interim government

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By Jehan Perera

The government’s intention to appoint a full complement of Ministers and State Ministers, and the jostling for positions amongst them, seems to suggest an attitude of business as usual.  This is quite astonishing as it was just two weeks ago that no government member felt safe from the wrath of mobs that formed themselves very swiftly and, apparently, spontaneously, to attack their homes and properties.  Last week they overrode the Opposition’s demand for time to debate the motion of censure against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for having led the country to disaster.  They also scuttled efforts to nominate a female legislator to the post of Deputy Speaker, disregarding the request of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which could have sown the seeds for consensual governance. They gave priority to their own personal concerns of getting compensation from the State for their losses.

It is unsurprising, in this context, that anger against the government continues to boil within the country.  There are roadblocks and demonstrations by the members of the public in places where petrol is either not being provided or has been pumped to private vehicles by officials and politicians.  The lines for petrol and diesel, and for cooking gas, are longer than ever before, despite announcements that ships have begun unloading these fuels.  The lines stretch for over a kilometer in the case of petrol and diesel meant for vehicles. Videos circulate on social media providing vivid images of the frustration of those who have waited in line for hours and hours only to find out that stocks have run out before they could get access to the fuel.

The three-wheel taxi, that took me to the Aragalaya protest site, opposite the Presidential Secretariat, charged me nearly three times the regular fare that prevailed before the economy collapsed.  He justified his high rate on the basis that he had spent the whole of the previous day trying to fill his vehicle tank with petrol.  The Aragalaya site, on Saturday evening, was not as busy as it had been the previous week and nowhere near as crowded as it was two weeks ago.  But the spirit of the Aragalaya lives in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. The physical presence of protestors may be only a fraction of the turnouts that made the government want to put an end to it, through thuggery, a fortnight ago. Even those who are protestors have to live their daily lives and earn their daily bread.  But special occasions will bring them back in large numbers.

ABOLISH KINGSHIP

Galle Face is the site of the passion and commitment of a younger generation of Sri Lankans to the eradication of corruption and mis-governance foisted on them by the old. The young people know they are being monitored by state CCTV systems and are vulnerable to being picked up on a later date to be done away with, as happened in the past.  Hundreds are currently being arrested for the attacks that took place against the homes and properties of government members on May 9.  But only a few of those government members, who streamed out of the Prime Minister’s residence, with iron rods and other improvised weapons, after being instigated by the Prime Minister’s men, are being arrested.

Those who are powerful because they are in the government are glibly denying what is plain to be seen on social media.  This is a continuation of past practices which gives impunity to the powerful, whatever they do, which needs to end.  At the Aragalaya site, on Saturday, l listened to speakers who described the hardships of the economic crisis, of the mother whose gas cylinder exploded, due to inappropriate mixing of gases by the government, and of the parents who saw their infant die because they could not get petrol for their vehicle to take their child to the hospital in time.  These were educated young people who spoke and there were many who listened to them to become message-bearers to the larger population that was not present at the site.  They were all brave or had lost their sense of fear. I was also given a private lecture by a regular visitor to the Aragalaya site.  He explained to me why the diminished numbers that day did not mean that support for the cause was diminishing.  He had a vision for what the Aragalaya should achieve, which he summarized in four short points.

 First, he said, an all-party interim government needed to be appointed for a temporary period to provide the cohesion needed for political stability that would give the government the credibility to raise the necessary economic resources from abroad. Second was the need to repeal the 20th Amendment and to replace it with the 21st Amendment that would reduce the power of the presidency.  Third was to conduct general elections in a new system that would depart from the present 100 percent proportional representation to one in which first-past-the-post constituency system would account for at least 70 percent of the seats to make the parliamentarians accountable to their electorates. Fourth was to abolish the presidency that catered to the traditional ethos of relying on the saviour king rather than on the empowerment of people exemplified by the Aragalaya youth.

ARAGALAYA

PROMISE

Prior to the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, when the power of the Aragalaya protest caused the entire Cabinet to step down, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an all-party interim government for a temporary period.  This has now taken on a distorted form in the wooing and horse-trading of members of other political parties, without the consent of their party leaderships.  Both the SJP, which is the largest opposition party, and the SLFP, which is the government’s largest coalition partner, have suffered defections to the new government.  This display of power play is not a positive sign of stability which is necessary if the government is to deal with the difficult economic issues the country confronts. It is not possible to justify how those who resigned from office due to a failure of government can be part of a new Cabinet, as if the failure had nothing to do with them.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has made a comparison of the predicament he is currently facing in the government by comparing his situation to the famous play by Bertolt Brecht, the Caucasian Chalk Circle.  The Prime Minister has brought credibility to the government through his ability to deal with the international community and his understanding of the macro economic situation of the country in relation to the world.  The 21st Amendment to the Constitution that will be brought to Parliament this week, if passed, will strengthen the Prime Minister’s powers still more. Unless circumstances, and the balance of political forces, within Parliament, permit him to chart a new course of governance that is consensual and transparent, the present government will also fail.

Much is at stake. Unless the economy improves fast the possibility of violence that can suddenly erupt, as it did on May 9, cannot be ruled out.  As Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour, India has been extremely generous now with its latest gift of Rs 2 billion worth of essential commodities, gifted by the Tamil Nadu state.  The challenge will be to persuade the more distant, but wealthier Western countries, Japan and China, to be equally generous.  The stability of the government that is brought about by the willing participation of the opposition political parties will be extremely important in demonstrating to the world, and to the Sri Lankan people, that the government, led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, really intend to chart a new path.  The holding of elections, within six months, and a new leadership, can be an example to other countries with similar broken down systems and government leaders who step aside as statesmen for the new generations to take over.



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Opinion

An open letter to 6.9 million

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Basil Rajapaksa has recently said that the Rajapaksas are not responsible for the dire situation in the country. He told the journalists not to pass the ball to him and he passed the ball to the people, especially to the 69 lakhs who voted the “Pohottuwa” into power.

So, my dear 6.9 million citizens,

You are my brothers and sisters. The Rajapaksas may blame you for the dire situation in the country but I do not blame you. I do not condemn you. For everybody makes mistakes. We are frail human beings. Now I am a senior citizen and in my life time I have been pickpocketed three times. It cost me three purses, a few thousand rupees and two ID cards to learn the lesson. But dear 6.9 million brothers and sisters your present political lesson cost all of us national bankruptcy, millions unemployed, unending queues for petrol, diesel, kerosene, cooking gas and passports, exorbitant price hikes of essentials, lack of essential medicines, looming starvation, anarchy, destruction and terrifying death. I hope you have learnt the lesson, at least by now.

Do you realise what kind of image you have shown to the world of our people, of us? Out of courtesy they will not voice it but they consider us damn fools.

Didn’t you know about the Rajapaksas and the tsunami funds? Didn’t you ever wonder how his three brats were spending like nothing and living it up like playboys? Have you never heard of Siriliya? Have you never heard of the deals between the Krish and the Rajapaksas? Didn’t you ever realise what an enormous amount of money has been wasted on useless white elephants, like the Lotus Tower, the Sooriyawewa Stadium, the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota Conference Hall? Why is it that the murderers of Thajudeen and Lasantha Wickrematunga can never be discovered? The latest revelation, from circumstantial evidence, is that Adani Group probably has dealings with the Rajapaksas. The Pandora Papers expose has raised the Rajapaksas to the notorious status of International Crooks. This is only the tip of the iceberg; if you scratch the garbage heap you’ll find more.

I cannot understand how the 69 lakhs got so thoroughly fooled by the Rajapaksas. You believed scandalous tales about infertility Kottu, infertility garments and Muslim doctors making Sinhala mothers sterile, etc. Everybody knows but nobody says who the brains behind the Easter Sunday massacre are. I guessed who it was quite soon. In any crime, the prime suspect is the one who profited most from it. Ask any police detective. The monks, intellectuals, professionals, and artistes were taken for a ride. Therefore, I do not blame you, the 69 lakhs. But the world was surprised that the citizens of Sri Lanka have such low IQ and can be so easily fooled.

Never mind all that; now let us talk about how to remedy the damage done to yourselves, us and the country. Here are a few methods to keep the right attitude to the current reality.

No.1: Never tolerate or get used to the hardships we are going through. If you are in a queue, curse the government loud enough so that at least the men in front and behind can hear you. The problem is not organising the queue more efficiently; the problem is there should not be any queues. The scarcity of petrol and diesel is a deliberate ploy by the heartless government to suppress the protest by the people. The only solution is a new stable and respected government and sending Rajapaksas to jail. Curse the government when the power cut begins. When you go shopping, curse the government loudly for the high prices of things or their lack. Keep the public aware of the hardships they unjustly endure. Never allow them to get used to it. Rage, rage against Gota and the 225 thieves.

No. 2: Either organise yourself or get somebody to organise small neighbourhood groups everywhere in your village, town and work place. Get in touch with someone in the Aragalaya and tell them you are ready for a final showdown.

No. 3: Write a letter of appreciation and encouragement to each one of the people who are at the Gotagogama. Or send a Thank You card for the sacrifices they are making for us and for our children. Here is their address: (Name) The Library, Gotagogama, Galle Face, Colombo 2.

No. 4: If you believe in a Universal Force or God, as I do, pray insistently with grief and groans and ask him to save our country from the rapacious scoundrels and killers who are holding our people by the scruff of the neck and robbing them clean.

No. 5: The evil government is driving us to a famine and starvation. Let us not be selfish. Let us share what we have or what little we have with those who do not have anything. Let us be always kind and considerate to our fellow citizens whoever they maybe.

Forget race, religion, language or whatever divides us. All of us are brothers and sisters in this national calamity, all children of Mother Lanka. Let us save her and ourselves together.

Down with the Ali Baba and the 225 thieves!

Aragalayata Jayawewa!
Fraternally your co-citizen,
Fr Chryso Pieris SJ

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Opinion

We will remember, and we will be grateful

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by Krishantha Prasad Cooray

For as long as the human race has organised itself into sovereign nations, no country has had a story of limitless success. Nations and empires alike have risen and fallen, over thousands of years. Every language has phrases like “it takes a village” to remind us of the limitations of individual people and the need to work together. Similarly, no nation will ever thrive in isolation. The fate of every country is dependent on its relationships with other countries, with allies who share their values and who support each other in times of need.

History is littered with examples of countries that have been beset by natural disasters, militarily crippled, ridden with diseases, targeted by terrorism or economically ruined. What separates those who overcome these challenges from those that don’t is the willingness of other countries to come to their aid.

After World War II, for example, when the Axis powers were roundly defeated, it was the countries that vanquished them who stepped in to rebuild them. Indeed, without the aid of the Allies, neither Germany nor Japan would have grown into the economic powerhouses they are today.

The Marshal Plan, an American initiative, enabled West Germany and other West European nations to rise from the ashes of war and gain rapid economic development.

Japan, on the other hand, had far fewer friends. As European victims of German aggression feared the prospect of a united Germany, Asian victims of Japanese aggression feared a remilitarised Japan. Cold War politics too played a role, with the Soviet Union accusing the United States of planning to turn Japan into a military camp against itself and China. It was only at the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951 that a peace treaty was finally signed, ending the occupation of Japan, restoring Japanese independence, and putting the country on a path to prosperity.

At that conference, it was then Sri Lankan Finance Minister Junius Richard Jayawardena, who spoke most persuasively about the case for making peace with Japan as an independent non-occupied nation. Jayewardene reminded the audience that prior to the barbarity of World War II, Japan had long been a staunch ally of other Asian nations. “It is because of our age-long connections with her, and because of the high regard the subject peoples of Asia have for Japan when she alone, among the Asian nations, was strong and free and we looked up to her as a guardian and friend,” he reminded the assembled world leaders.

Japan has never forgotten, and even today, memorial statues and plaques across Japan mark the country’s gratitude to J.R. Jayewardene. Sri Lanka, at the time, had nothing to gain from the vanquished Japanese. But we came to the aid of a nation in need and did the correct thing. A quarter century later, when J.R. Jayewardene became President of Sri Lanka, our relationship with Japan became one of the cornerstones of Sri Lanka’s subsequent prosperity.

Today, Sri Lanka finds itself crippled by an unprecedented crisis. Our people are in abject financial peril. Over a quarter of the country is starving and malnourished. The economy is paralyzed and many children are unable to reach schools due to fuel shortages. Electricity has become a luxury, and essential medicines have become scarce.

This is not the doing of the people but the result of mismanagement by corrupt, incompetent and short-sighted politicians holding the reins of power for their own gain. These politicians benefited. The people suffered. They suffer as I write and will suffer for a long time more to come.

It is tragic to see a country as resilient as Sri Lanka, with a proud history, being reduced to such a state. One day, I have no doubt that my country will rise again. But we will only do so with the support of friends, who will speak in solidarity and act in support.

Sri Lanka is but the first country to see its economy collapse at the mercy of corruption and rising global food and oil prices. It won’t be the last. Before long, other poorly managed countries will also begin to waver. Each stumbling nation can be rescued one at a time, but if several countries all collapse together, the chain reaction could paralyze the economies of not just the region, but the entire world. Sri Lanka, in particular, is ripe for rescue.

The people are clamouring for serious institutional and constitutional reform. If these reforms are coupled to both humanitarian aid and commercial investments, the payoff will be not just a monetary one, but one of deep gratitude.At this time, if people, institutions and nations alike come to the aid of the Sri Lankan people, that aid is needed like never before. Doing so will help avert or minimize a humanitarian crisis like Sri Lanka has never known. Any country can make a contribution to help feed the starving, heal the sick, employ the unemployed, light up a classroom, and take other steps to help Sri Lanka to jumpstart its economy.

It was such words of support, and deeds of solidarity that helped Japan in 1951, and for which Japan has remained grateful so many decades later. Likewise, such a word, such a deed, will be remembered by Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, those who are suffering right now, those who survive, and their children. It is a brand of gratitude that is special because it is altruistic. People will remember, ‘they didn’t have to, they had nothing to gain, but they did anyway.’ We will remember, and we will be grateful.

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Opinion

Ohe Innava ; ban on Russian tennis players; greed leads via deceptive satisfaction to disaster

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Sins of the leaders suffered by innocents

This beautiful island seems to be at a standstill and its people rather dazed, confined to homes or queues for days on end (no longer hours). Maybe, Jaffna and its southern neighbouring Vanni are better equipped mentally and stoically to withstand these vagaries of fortune and carry on their lives as they know well, through experience (1983 to 2009 and even thereafter), with inbuilt mental and physical resistance. The government that should be so very occupied looking after its people, and MPs and their bosses mandated to do so, only continue emanating hot air and cruise around in their gas guzzlers, of course, in protected areas. They feel the anger of the people: righteous, justified and ready to burst forth in flames of anarchy at the first ignition. One VIP speaks to the public of imminent arrival of ships laden full with fuel and cooking gas; and another VVIP on further necessity to tighten belts and suffer. All of us are near suffocation because of the mistakes, corruption, extravagance and bl… idiocy of those who ruled us.

The biggest man, almost daily, gathers sundry officers to his vast meeting hall and while they gaze at him, some mindlessly but none interrupting, pontificates mostly on how they should be alleviating the hardships of the population. He singlehandedly caused farmers and now us immense deprivation. He thought his mea culpa would exonerate him. The ex-PM and doing-just-as-they bid ex-Gov of CB sit out in comfort on the look out to escape. The dethroned VIP heir is creeping back to meetings where he is not justified being in. Dreams of a glorious return? Shatter them to bits, you people are NOT coming back ever to power. 20 million people, including kids, know you all too well now and the bung screwed on tight on criticism popped off, released mostly by the peaceful protesters of Mynagama and GotaGoGama. Thank goodness for them!

Cass listened to the articulation of peaceful protesters in Havelock Town carrying succinct boards and good sense and intelligence in their heads as relayed by 8.30 pm Newsline of MTV TV One on Tuesday 28 late evening. What emerged was most forceful censure of the powers that were and are. ‘Go home Gota’ they said in unison and decently. What sort of a skin does one need to enable one to stay on when disliked so intensely and shown the exit explicitly by millions here and overseas. The protective skin of the armed forces is not available, one presumes. As is said, the soldiers’ old mothers can barely make ends meet with soaring prices and fathers are in queues, so how expect them to turn against their own suffering people even though commanded to do so?

Wimbledon

The cricket matches between the Aussie team and a revived, zestful Sri Lankan team have been giving solace to a major section of our people. That is fine, since one needs to divert one’s mind and also grab whatever respite one can from the ongoing disaster that is our beloved country.

Cassandra is a tennis buff deriving not only sporty enthusiasm but also aesthetic satisfaction by watching good players on court. How so the latter, one may query. Just watch a good player and witness his/her playing is ballet like in postures and grace; a fine synchronization of muscle and limb. And for Cassandra the best is to watch the Wimbledon matches, the players and linesman and ball pickers all in white. Maybe Cass is conservative, a throw back on her upbringing, but discipline even in what the players wear is pleasing to her. Wimbledon times are not so inconvenient to us as matches start there at 3.30 (it was said) and so by 8.00 pm one can watch them over sports channels. It’s when the US Open is on that one has to watch into all hours of our night.

Wimbledon has banned Russian players and so men’s world number 1 Daniil Medvedev is out – banned; so also number 8 Andrey Rublev and women’s numbers 6 and 13 – never mind names, difficult to even spell. Great pity, especially regards Medvedev – almost humble on court – but again proof that sins of the leaders fall on ordinary heads. The organisers of Wimbledon decided in April to ban players from Russia and Belarus in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So, ex KGB Putin’s fear of European Union’s expansion of influence and protection, or greed for expansion of Russian controlled territory or even a desire to re-establish a sort of USSR have impacted on innocent sportsmen and women.

Greed may be satisfied temporarily but degraded shame is permanent result

‘Bollywood actress of Sri Lankan origin’ as Jacqueline Fernandez is named by S Venkat Narayan and other media persons, has again been questioned by the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the gifts of dollars and expensive items given her and her family members by billionaire conmen Sukesh Chandrashekhar. Cass is not flogging a dead horse (or much alive, lovely mare here) but quoting this tidbit from Tuesday June 28 press, wishing to impress on herself and her readers that avarice and boundless greed lead to retribution and perhaps heart searing regret. It is obvious Jackie entertained the conman, and very intimately we suppose, to be worth all those millions gifted to her. It surely cannot be love. That explanation for the close liaison is good for the fairies to narrate. She was motivated by desire for quick immense wealth. And she has landed flat on her face: passport impounded, reputation gone, and with it admirers and Salman Khan too perhaps, and sure shot no offers of further stardom. She was catapulted to be top of the beauts on par with now exclusive Aishwaria Rai Bachchan. And what has avarice brought her to?

Cass in her age earned wisdom warns young beauties not to gamble on good looks. Many are the girls who did so and surely are cast aside and also fearful now since tables have been turned on their benefactors mostly by the sensible young ones of GotaGoGama. Where’s that beauty queen whose crown was snatched as placed on her by political influence, who accompanied Lohan R to Welikada prison in short shorts to view the gallows? We heard many a chick was given jobs, sometimes double at Sri Lankan, with no English ability, etc. No wonder our airline nose-dived and is still on that perilous down swing but sustained by government monetary life lines. Many were the discards given employment in Sri Lankan.

Another point: definitely a too flogged horse: are those who plundered government money and assets by the millions, nay billions happy and leading fine lives. Nay, No and Nein! They may be safe and their stolen wealth intact and in no danger of being confiscated, but their minds? Wellbeing? They cannot have such thick hides that satisfying the five senses brings them peace of mind? Again, a thundering NO. Reputations ground to dust; friends disappeared; and the door to a return to political power shut bang. Jolly good for those damned thieves who sent our country down to the depths. We will rise, that’s for sure. We have good people in the majority.

On that rousing note of determination to rise from the depths, Cassandra wishes you bye, for now. May its enforced curtailment of normal routines; immense difficulties and future bleakness not depress you too much. We as a country can only now go upwards, hit rock bottom as we are.

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