Thursday 17th November, 2022
President Ranil Wickremesinghe interspersed his budget speech with some quotations to bolster his argument for adopting unpopular measures to straighten up the economy. He referred to Lee Kuan Yew’s claim that Singapore had followed the hard yet right path, but Sri Lanka under Bandaranaike had chosen the popular path. SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera has taken exception to what he calls the President’s wrong interpretation of history. The Bandaranaikes, too, followed the hard path, he has said, citing economic hardships Sri Lankans had to face under the SLFP-led United Front (UF) government from 1970 to 1977.
Jayasekera has chosen to overlook the fact that Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) referred to the 1950s, and spoke of ‘Bandaranaike’ and not ‘the Bandaranaikes’. President Wickremesinghe has used the quotation at issue to support his position that there is no future for a country that chooses the popular path, and Sri Lanka cannot achieve prosperity by giving concessions while being in debt. Immediately after quoting LKY, the President extolled what he called ‘the 1977’ approach or the open economy introduced by his uncle, President J. R. Jayewardene, who, he said, had adopted economic policies that provided opportunities instead of concessions.
Thus, one may argue that LKY’s statement in question has been taken out of context, but some of the points the President and Jayasekera have sought to make could still be considered valid. The UF government under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike strove to overcome global challenges and strengthen the economy without increasing the country’s indebtedness, and the methods it employed were far from popular. It is also a valid argument that dirigisme is an anachronism in the modern world, and can exist only in North Korea, and Sri Lanka had to adopt economic reforms in 1977.
The problem, as we see it, is that both Sirimavo and Jayewardene did not adopt a via media. Their governments opted for extremes. The UF government should not have caused so much suffering to the public in the name of its economic experiment. Perhaps, its two-thirds majority made it impervious to public opinion. The Jayewardene administration turned the economy on its head, and resorted to reckless borrowing. It was also intoxicated with power; it had a five-sixths majority in Parliament.
Under the UF government, the people had to eat papol (papaya) because there were no apples, and the Jayewardene regime came to power, promising apples. People started eating apples and forgot papol. Today, there are no apples, and the people can hardly afford papol! Worse, the country is stuck in debt and bankrupt.
Let the present-day Sri Lankan politicians be urged to get their act together; they must make a concerted effort to hoist the country out of the present economic mire instead of fighting over what the late Singapore leader said.
Sri Lanka, which is experiencing various shortages, has never been short of holier-than-thou politicians given to pontificating about the virtues of meritocracy, among other things, to the point of queasiness. These worthies are found on both sides of the House.
State Minister of Media Shantha Bandara has told Parliament a home truth. What with the magnitude of the current economic crisis, everyone has to work hard, and the ministers and public officials who have failed to deliver must be removed forthwith, he has said. One could not agree with him more! It is hoped that Bandara has not incurred the wrath of the government leaders, whose incompetence as ministers has led to the country’s bankruptcy.
Bandara’s call must have struck a responsive chord with the resentful people, who are undergoing untold suffering owing to the remarkable ineptitude of the government leaders. What he has called for, if implemented, could also help solve the problem of the public being burdened with jumbo Cabinets. If all incompetent ministers are made to step down, we will have a very small Cabinet, for only a handful of MPs in the current Parliament are fit to hold ministerial posts.
Now that Bandara has talked the talk, he has to walk the walk. He should set an example to other incompetent ministers by stepping down himself. Example is said to be better than precept. Merit had nothing to do with his appointment as a State Minister. He secured a ministerial post by switching his allegiance to the SLPP-UNP combine, which has become a metaphor for ineptness.
A double whammy
Saturday 3rd December, 2022
The current economic crisis has eclipsed many other serious issues the country is beset with, and among them is the drug menace. President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum Dr. Rukshan Bellana has made a revelation, which is sure to send a chill down everyone’s spine; drug addiction is on the rise among hospital workers, he has told the media. The majority of these drug addicts are members of the minor staff, and they are involved in drug peddling as well, he has said. There seems to be no shortage of narcotics at government hospitals, where medicinal drugs are in short supply!
An oft-heard complaint in health circles is that minor staff members in the state-run hospitals have become a law unto themselves because they are recruited on the basis of their political connections. Gone are the days when every worker in the state sector was recruited on merit and properly trained, and made to face disciplinary action in case of transgressions. There have been instances where hospital workers even threatened and roughed up their superiors, and politicians intervened to protect the culprits. It is only natural that they use and sell narcotics in hospitals with impunity. The need for these elements to be severely dealt with cannot be overstated.
It is hoped that the Health Ministry will get cracking on ridding the hospital system of narcotics instead of taking action against Dr. Bellana for having exposed drug addiction among health workers. When a doctor released the findings of a survey on malnutrition among children, a few months ago, the health panjandrums took disciplinary action against him!
The narcotic trade seems to have thrived during the past several years. About 80 percent of private bus drivers in Colombo and its suburbs were addicted to drugs, State Minister Dilum Amunugama said, last year. President of the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association Gemunu Wijeratne has gone on record as saying that about 50% private bus drivers are addicted to drugs, countrywide, and most of them have graduated from cannabis to ICE (crystal methamphetamine). No wonder they drive like bats out of hell! Drug addiction must be equally high among other heavy vehicle drivers as well. Last year, about 2,490 lives were lost in road accidents, which numbered 2,325, and left 5,263 seriously injured.
A programme to conduct roadside drug testing is to be launched in January, we are told. This is a long-felt need and will help reduce the number of fatal accidents significantly. At present, there is no way drug addicts behind the wheel could be detected although most bus and truck drivers are addicted to narcotics. The police can nab only drunk drivers. State Minister of Transport Lasantha Alagiyawanna has said about 5,000 drug screening devices have been distributed among the police. This is a worthwhile investment.
Worryingly, the drug Mafia has succeeded in spreading its tentacles to schools as well. Education Minister Susil Premajayantha has revealed in Parliament recently that in the current year more than 81 schoolchildren have been sent for drug rehabilitation. The number of students addicted to drugs could be higher, as President of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union Priyantha Fernando has said. The drug menace has not spared even rural schools, according to him. It is against this backdrop that the government’s budget proposal to explore the possibility of cultivating cannabis for export should be viewed.
Who guards the guards? A survey conducted by the police headquarters has revealed that about 37 police personnel are addicted to drugs in the Western Province. The police are expected to conduct similar surveys in other provinces. Needless to say, addicts in uniform are a danger to society and have to be weeded out.
The government has many problems to wrestle with, but it must redouble its efforts to crush the drug Mafia, which is taking advantage of the current political situation, where the police are apparently doing full-time political work, to expand its operations.
Rapists at large
Friday 2nd December, 2022
A diplomat attached to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Muscat has been arrested upon his arrival at the BIA and remanded for his alleged involvement in a human trafficking racket, where women smuggled out of this country were forced into prostitution in Oman. According to some media reports, they were auctioned like slaves and raped. But those who have gang-raped the Sri Lankan economy for years can move through the BIA freely.
Basil Rajapaksa, who is one of the politicians responsible for the collapse of the Sri Lankan economy, returned to the country recently through the VIP section of the BIA. Worse, National Police Commission Chief Chandra Fernando himself was among those present there to welcome him; Fernando was seen touching his forelock before Basil! What’s the world coming to when the heads of the so-called Independent Commissions, which have been established to depoliticise public institutions, behave like fawning sycophants before disgraced politicians?
Anyone who commits sex crimes have to be severely dealt with according to the law, and the diplomat from hell who has allegedly collaborated with human traffickers and even sexually abused some of the victims must be made to face the full force of the law. But the question is why no action has been taken against those who rape the economy and inflict so much suffering on the public.
The perpetrators of economic crimes against the nation are back in action, and some of them, who went into hiding during anti-government protests a few moons ago, are now on the offensive; they have started carrying out attacks on their political rivals. They unleashed violence at Hanguranketha on Sunday. Old habits are said to die hard.
The unfortunate Sri Lankan women who were auctioned as sex slaves in Oman can at least hope to have their day in court here, thanks to an effective media campaign against the human traffickers and their accomplices in the Foreign Service, but the victims of the rape of the economy have to suffer in silence. The government has chosen to gag them, and threatened to unleash the military on them in case they take to the streets to voice their grievances.
Basil could not leave for the US in the aftermath of the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July, due to protests against him at the BIA; he had to return. But he left the country via the BIA, with his head held high, following the election by the SLPP of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President, in Parliament. Today, he is given VIP treatment and police escort. This seems to be the only change the current SLPP-UNP administration has brought about!
The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe symbiosis reminds us of the sea anemone and the hermit crab. The Rajapaksas’ lot and that of their cronies and the UNP grandees have manifestly improved while the people are undergoing untold hardships. People are in for another shock; electricity tariffs are to be jacked up again next year. Corruption is rampant, and public funds continue to be plundered. The health sector trade unions have blown the lid off a racket involving oxygen concentrators!
There has been a let-up of sorts in public protests, and this seems to have lulled the government politicians into a false sense of security, and emboldened them to make up for lost time, but let them be warned that they are courting danger. What they are experiencing is like the eerie calm and drawback that precede the landfall of a killer tsunami. They are behaving like those who, blinded by greed, and oblivious to danger, tried to grab newly-exposed land when the sea rolled back minutes before the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, and perished.
Given the massive build-up of public anger in the polity, the protests that led to the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will look mere ripples in a puddle in comparison to the next popular uprising, which is bound to happen sooner than expected. There is absolutely no defence against a real People Power revolution. Tinpot Hitlers are not equal to the task of stopping it; even the mighty Chinese Communist Party is struggling to contain a wave of public protests.
When House oozes with religiosity
Thursday 1st December, 2022
We have been wondering, during the past few days, whether the ongoing parliamentary debate is on Budget 2023 or Buddhism. President Ranil Wickremesinghe, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa have been arguing over some Suttas, or different interpretations thereof. Yesterday, Premadasa treated the House to a brief lecture again on some Suttas in response to what the President had said the previous day.
Never a dull moment in the House when President Wickremesinghe is present. He has a remarkable predilection for thrusting and parrying with his rivals. An avid reader, he is au courant with Buddhism, and causes a stir now and then by making snide remarks about political monks. It was something uncomplimentary he said about some junior monks and their conduct that prompted Opposition Leader Premadasa to leap to the defence of the Maha Sangha and quote extensively from several Suttas in support of his arguments. One may not countenance the President’s choice of words at issue, but the conduct of some Buddhist monks is deplorable to say the least, and they are a disgrace to the Sangha. It is incumbent upon the Maha Nayake Theras to rein them in.
Some MPs have strayed into such lengthy digressions, parading their knowledge of Buddhism, that yesterday Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene happened to urge them to stop preaching Dhamma and concentrate on the purpose of the debate and the day’s business.
Politicians are known for smug moralising and fervent religiosity, and on listening to their arguments over Dhamma in the House we were reminded of a line Antonio utters in The Merchant of Venice: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” They are doing to the Dhamma what they do to the Constitution; they are interpreting it in such a way as to justify their actions and gain political mileage.
Curiously, while some laymen were arguing about the Dhamma in the House in a bid to score political points, MP monk, Rathana Thera, made no intervention. It is not clear from media reports on parliamentary proceedings whether he was present in the House while others were bandying words about Buddhism. He waxes eloquent on other subjects ranging from agriculture to foreign affairs, and even advises the Presidents on matters related to agrochemicals, but has chosen to remain silent on the ‘debate’ on the Dhamma, which is his province! We expected him to intervene when the budget debate took a religious turn, so to speak. Even Education Minister Susil Premjayantha stuck his oar in, yesterday. Is it that Rathana Thera considers it infra dig to make a contribution to a debate among laypersons on Buddhism?
It is Vanijja Sutta that Opposition MPs and the President should have discussed during the budget debate, if at all, more than anything else because the Buddha has basically said therein what types of business should be avoided.
The Constitution accords Buddhism the foremost place, but the State of Sri Lanka has, under successive governments led by Buddhist leaders, been doing exactly the opposite of what the Buddha has preached in Vanijja Sutta; he has asked people to abstain from engaging in business in weapons, business in living beings, business in flesh, business in intoxicants and business in poison’. Sri Lanka promotes slavery in all but name; it encourages its women to slave away in West Asia to earn forex; it is dependent on taxes collected from manufacturers of liquor and cancer sticks, and it has undertaken to develop fisheries and animal husbandry. The Chandrika Kumaratunga government sought to set up a factory to manufacture arms here, but its plan went awry. Budget 2023 has proposed to explore the possibility of growing cannabis, of all things, for export! The Sri Lankan state is not involved in the poison business as such, but allows the sale of food items and other commodities contaminated with harmful substances including carcinogens.
Can the rulers of Sri Lanka reconcile the constitutional provision that grants Buddhism the foremost place with the blatant violation by the State of the core tenets of Buddhism?
Now that our honourable representatives have amply demonstrated their knowledge of Buddhism, let them be urged to practise what they preach so that Parliament will be a better place. For this purpose, they do not have to study the Suttas or discourses; they only have to observe the Five Precepts and abstain from, at least, lying, killing and stealing.
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