Monday 7th June, 2021
A recent meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton has received much publicity. They reportedly discussed the Geneva resolution against Sri Lanka, among other things. Interestingly, their meeting took place close on the heels of Germany’s apology for the colonial-era genocide in Namibia, and France’s admission of its role in the 1994 ethnic cleansing campaign in Rwanda, where about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus perished; France has confessed that it did not heed warnings of the impending carnage.
While discussing the Geneva resolution with the British HC, the Sri Lankan side should have raised the following human rights issues with her and inquired whether the UK would tender an apology for its crimes against this country. In 1817-18, the British resorted to the scorched-earth policy to crush the Wellassa rebellion. Tens of thousands of people were massacred and all fruit-bearing trees felled. Farm animals were wiped out, and over one hundred thousand paddy fields, from which Wellassa has derived its name, reduced to rubble. All males in the area including children were put to the sword by the marauding British troops. What the British perpetrated were genocide and gendercide. Moreover, the UK government, which HC Hulton represents, has allowed a senior LTTE leader, Adele Balasingham, who brainwashed and trained female Tiger cadres responsible for massacring civilians and other crimes, to live in London as a free woman while the British leaders are calling for action against war crimes. Adele’s late husband, Anton Balasingham, who justified LTTE terror and strove to gain international legitimacy for it, was also a British citizen.
The British HC should also have been asked why any UK defence attachés should be stationed here because the British governments do not heed their advice, observations, etc. The Johnson administration has refused to take on board the views of British defence attache, Lt. Col. Anthony Gash, on the final stages of the Vanni war. The same goes for the US defence attaches, for Washington has also rejected as worthless its defence attache, Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s observations on Sri Lanka’s war.
While discussing the resolution adopted by the UN human rights arm against Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa should have taken up with the British HC the UN public health arm’s criticism of the rich countries including the UK for vaccine hoarding. The People’s Vaccine Alliance has also lashed out at the developed nations for stockpiling Covid-19 vaccines at the expense of 70 lower-income countries. The Global North does not have to give away vaccines; if it stops stockpiling them, they will be available in other parts of the world.
The Sri Lankan side should also have discussed with the British HC the international human rights situation, and inquired from her why former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had not been brought to justice yet for his role in killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians including half a million children in an illegal war for oil waged on the basis of falsified intelligence dossiers. The British HC should also have been asked when the thousands of Chagossians, who were forcibly evicted by the UK for the construction of the Diego Garcia military base of the US between 1968 and 1973, would be allowed to return to their homeland. This question should also be posed to the US, which pontificates to others on human rights. The UN General Assembly has, in a 116-6 vote, affirmed a 13-1 International Court of Justice verdict that the British rule in the Chagos Archipelago is unlawful. Shouldn’t the UK and the US, before asking others to respect human rights and UNHRC resolutions abide by UN decisions and lead by example?
President Rajapaksa can raise the aforementioned issues with the British HC when they meet next and ask her when the UK will tender an apology for massacres here and make reparation.
It is wrong to say that the UK, Canada, the US, etc., have no right to champion democracy and be critical of human rights violations in places like Sri Lanka because they themselves are perpetrators of grave crimes. They do have a right to defend democracy and human rights. But they must apologise for their own crimes including genocide, gendercide and the plunder of resources in other countries and pay compensation, and thereby demonstrate that they feel remorse for their brutality. That is the least they can do to prevent themselves being seen as a bunch of hypocrites.
Meanwhile, whenever Sri Lankan leaders representing either the government or the Opposition meet foreign leaders or envoys, they invariably ask for financial assistance, thus reducing themselves to the level of mendicants near the Colombo Town Hall, where beggars hare in droves, seeking alms when a car pulls over. If these worthies who are leading ‘whiskey lifestyles’ on the country’s ‘toddy income’, as someone has rightly said, refrain from wasting and stealing public funds, perhaps there will be no need for foreign assistance. They also have huge amounts of leftover campaign funds, which are either invested through various fronts or stashed away in offshore accounts. Instead of panhandling, why can’t these grandees donate a fraction of their ill-gotten wealth so that the country can buy vaccines, PCR machines, ICU beds, etc., and provide economic relief to the poor they shed copious tears for?
When villains guffaw and heroes whine
Wednesday 23rd June, 2021
A sardonic witticism attributed to Einstein describes insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. How successive Sri Lankan governments have sought to solve the problem of periodic rice shortages created by a group of powerful millers is a textbook example of insanity in the Einsteinian sense. Their modus operandi has been to import rice. Theoretically, this method should work, but it has failed to be a remedy due to market manipulation by the unscrupulous millers, as we have argued in previous comments.
A cartel of millers was making huge profits at the expense of the public to the tune of Rs. 20 a kilo of rice, Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage told Parliament yesterday, claiming that the government was left with no alternative but to import 100,000 MT of rice immediately to bring down prices. He said the government’s paddy stocks had run out.
Aluthgamage, however, made no revelation. That some powerful millers exploit both the farmer and the consumer with impunity is public knowledge.
When the shipments of rice arrive, the big-time millers release some of their stocks, causing prices to fall before the next harvest period. Imported rice does not suit the local consumer’s palate and, therefore, most of it remains unsold in warehouses. Thereafter, the millers’ cartel buys paddy from farmers at extremely low prices, and hoards it causing prices to rise, again. Thus, they get the best of both worlds. The imported rice rotting away in government warehouses goes for a song as animal feed in the end, and those responsible for rice imports laugh all the way to the bank.
The previous government is alleged to have caused a loss of about Rs. 10 billion to the state coffers due to rice imports. Farmers’ associations have accused some key public officials of colluding with the millers’ mafia. How much the state coffers will lose due to rice imports under the present dispensation remains to be seen.
The government must take action to prevent the hoarding of rice and have the hoarded rice released to the market forthwith. Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardena has gone on record as saying that in dealing with hoarders, the government cannot act like a thug. Curiously, some of the present-day leaders are believed to have a history of having television stations, newspaper printing presses, etc., burnt down and their rivals including journalists killed. How come they act with restraint in handling the rice Mafia? Anyway, if the existing laws lack teeth and do not provide for tough action needed to prevent hoarding, let new ones be made fast to tame the exploitative millers. After all, the government keeps bragging about its two-thirds majority in Parliament, and, therefore, legislating for the people’s interests to be safeguarded should be child’s play for it. The Opposition will have to support such a move or incur much public opprobrium.
The task of taming the millers’ cartel requires urgent action to develop the Paddy Marketing Board, as a national priority, rid it of bribery and corruption, and ensure that small-time millers receive loans to purchase paddy without undue delays. They complain that banks, at the behest of some wealthy millers, delay their loans, and by the time funds are made available, there is hardly any paddy for them to buy.
What makes governments baulk at adopting stern action to tame the rice Mafia is that influential politicians benefit from the largesse of the wealthy millers, who have huge slush funds.
Two of the big-time millers who stand accused of manipulating the prices of rice through hoarding, etc., are closely connected with the present dispensation. They are Dudley Sirisena, younger brother of SLPP MP and former President Maithripala Sirisena, and State Minister Siripala Gamlath, who is related to the Sirisena family. This may explain why the heroes in the current government are all hat and no cattle or ‘float like bees and sting like butterflies’ when they ‘take on’ the rice Mafia.
Tuesday 22nd June, 2021
Old habits are said to die hard. Some SLPP leaders have reverted to their old ways even before the government has completed one year in office. They do not seem to learn from their past blunders that cost them dear politically; they are busy settling personal scores with one another, the way they did towards the latter part of the previous Rajapaksa government, whose leaders committed political hara-kiri by trifling with some UPFA seniors and even trying to smoke them out.
SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam is openly clashing with some Cabinet ministers. He has audaciously demanded Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s resignation over the fuel price increases. Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa’s wings are being clipped, to all intents and purposes; his ministry has been stripped of Lanka Phosphate Ltd. (LPL). The government has sought to justify its action by claiming that the institutions involved in fertiliser production should be under the Agriculture Ministry.
Now that LPL has been placed under the Agriculture Ministry, one can only hope that it will not face the same fate as the so-called peripheral forests, whose management the government craftily removed from the purview of the Forest Department and placed under the District and Divisional Secretaries, on the pretext of helping the people engaged in traditional agriculture. This move enabled the SLPP henchmen to encroach on forests, pretending to be farmers.
The Auditor General and others on a mission to protect vital state assets should keep a watchful eye on LPL, which is said to be making profits at present; Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage must be held accountable if LPL backslides. It is no secret that various racketeers have been eyeing this state-owned venture for a long time; there are some government cronies among them. They must be licking their chops. The sky is the limit for these elements, as evident from the manner in which the government reduced import duty on sugar to help one of its financiers make a killing at the expense of the state coffers, which suffered colossal losses amounting to billions of rupees, as a result. MONLAR (Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform), which is at the forefront of protecting farmers’ rights, has warned of a sinister move to divest LPL in the long run. This warning should be taken seriously.
The Opposition is not playing its cards well where the government’s political woes are concerned. The SJB leaders do not seem to have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which says, among other things, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” They seem to be convinced otherwise; they have resorted to offensive action while their political enemies are clashing, and in so doing, they have only prompted the SLPP dissenters to make common cause. They have undertaken to move a no-faith motion against Minister Gammanpila, and unwittingly provided the government with a fresh rallying point. Now, even the SLPP MPs who are desirous of seeing the back of Gammanpila will have to support him when the motion of no confidence against him is put to the vote in Parliament. In 2018, the Joint Opposition led by Mahinda Rajapaksa made a similar mistake by trying to oust the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had become extremely unpopular among the UNF MPs. Their betise turned out to be a lifeline for the crumbling yahapalana government; even the bitterest critics of Wickremesinghe in the UNP circled the wagons, and he emerged stronger.
The government is in the same predicament as a person afflicted with an autoimmune disease; it has turned against itself. It is harming itself in such a way that the Opposition does not have to do anything. So, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa can relax, or devote his time and energy to devising a way to ward off threats former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is expected to pose to the SJB after entering Parliament as a National List MP.
Monday 21st June, 2021
Sri Lanka police, more often than not, draw heavy flak from the public as well as human rights activists for inaction. Complaints abound that they cite their involvement with pandemic control as the reason for their failure to carry out their regular duties and functions properly. But they have proved their critics wrong––for once. On Friday, ink was barely dry on a complaint against a person when they swooped on him and bundled him into a paddy wagon. What was the offence he had allegedly committed? He had asked Moratuwa Mayor Samanlal Fernando, over the phone, “Dan sepada?” (This is a rhetorical question Sri Lankans ask someone who, they think, has got his comeuppance.) The suspect has been described as one of Fernando’s many critics.
Mayor Fernando recently got his just deserts after kicking up a stink at a vaccination centre in Moratuwa, where he turned aggressive and tried to impose his will on a group of health workers, who refused to give first dibs on the jab to those who carried ‘chits’ issued by him. Exasperated and piqued, he barked at the health officials obstructing as he did their work. It became too embarrassing for his political masters to shield him, and he was arrested when he surrendered to the police. He was remanded and bailed out. A person who obstructed a group of Public Health Officers engaged in pandemic control, at Atalugama, last year, was sentenced to jail. Whether Mayor Fernando will face the full force of the law similarly remains to be seen.
The police just looked on while Fernando was ranting and raving, and obstructing the state officials engaged in administrating the life-saving vaccine. Thereafter, they patiently waited until he came to the police station of his own volition. But they arrested in double-quick time, the person who called him!
What is the law under which the aforementioned caller has been arrested? This is something the Bar Association of Sri Lanka should take up with the police, whom it has rightly urged not to abuse the law to suppress the people’s democratic rights.
If it is an offence that warrants arrest to ask ‘dan sepada?’ from someone over the phone or otherwise, then the question is why no action has been taken against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who kept on asking the people the same question, in public, from 2015 to 2019, while they were suffering under the yahapalana government, which blundered on every front. In fact, it is he who popularised this rhetorical question, which became the main campaign slogan of the SLPP to all intents and purposes. The boot is now on the other foot, and the current Opposition is asking it from the people, who are facing numerous hardships, having voted the SLPP into office.
Interestingly, the person who asked the public, ‘Dan sepada?’ went on to become the Prime Minister, and the elector who asked the same question from a local government politician has got arrested!
It is evident from the arrest in question that the police can act stunningly fast if they choose to do so. If only there had been the same high-octane performance, which smacks of selective efficiency, on their part when they received warnings of the impending Easter Sunday attacks in 2019, or at least when they launched a probe after the tragedy. If they had arrested Zahran, the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath, when they were informed that he would lead a group of terrorists on a suicidal mission to attack churches, etc., the tragedy could have been prevented. The mastermind of the carnage is believed to be at large, and the police are groping in the dark, and making false claims.
People had very high hopes when they elected the present government, whose leaders promised them the moon. But today they cannot even ask their beloved representatives a question over the phone without getting arrested. The aforementioned poor elector from Moratuwa is lucky that the person he telephoned is only a glorified local government politician. Had he asked that question from someone in the top echelons of government, perhaps fighter jets would have been scrambled. So much for the people’s ability to exercise their democratic rights including the freedom of expression under the current regime, which has got stuck in the same rut as the yahapalana dispensation and lost direction.
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