Michael Schaffer in the Sunday Island of 31 July gave us a detailed account of one rogue (I am bold enough the use that word) in the endless gallery of Sri Lankan VIP rogues of the recent past. One feature of the lineup is that most belong to one family – brother, sons, cousins, in-laws; then the family sycophants, other politicos and administrative officials. Like they said of the books in the Library of Congress, if you line up the portraits of those in the rogues gallery, they will encircle this Island and spill into the ocean and go far out as the LC books were supposed to girdle the entire world at its equator if arranged shelf-like.
Ex Ambassador to the US of America
As Cass was saying, Schaffer detailed the case of the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the US residing in Washington DC, who decided the embassy used so far was not grand enough and bought a bigger, better sited house for a whopping figure from which he skimmed off a considerable amount for himself. The title of Schaffer’s expose was The Ambassador, his swanky new embassy and the limits of diplomatic immunity. Who paid for the new embassy? You and Cass and even Jamis and Magilin when they bought their daily necessities which were taxed. “The US is doing a small developing country’s dirty work in prosecuting its ex ambassador for fraud, and it may eventually be cause for discomfort along Embassy Row.” What a shocking, revolting disgrace to this country and of course to the President of SL who appointed him. That was the five years when MR lorded it as the winning hero of the civil war and traded on it so shamefully with all around him paying abject pooja. Not that either of them is rattled or ashamed; skins are of the kind they belong to: buffaloes.
The Editor, The Island, in his lead article Plea bargain helps Jaliya to get off lightly dealt with this minus details and gives at the end a reminder of “another Rajapaksa cousin, Udayanga Weeratunge, who served as ambassador to Russia” his only qualification being that he had lived in the USSR and spoke Russian. This appointment was in the reign of MR in 2004-2009. He was accused by the Ukranian government of a questionable purchase of MIG-27 jets Nothing came of that case probed in Sri Lanka. He was missing during Yahapalanaya years but towards the end, that government reneged on its promise to trace corruption among the high and mighty and punish wrong doers. Then Weeratunge, who even evaded Interpol for many years, surfaced in Paradise, with one coz Prez and another PM and became tour operator with personal address as Temple Trees, Colombo.
These two and their supportive thieves are all alive and thriving, but one beloved journo, who delved into the MIG purchase was brutally killed and a female journo whisked out of the country just in time to save her and her son’s lives.
One wonders how the rogues were given full unhindered freedom to carry on lording it around. There was one lady journo who was critical and Cass in another guise gave vent to her indignation but gave up when pleaded by a brother who pointed out – “if you are taken in a white van there is no organisation or person to get you out. I am helpless.”
Much gratitude to the Aragalaya protestors that all is out now; rogues identified; some sent to Siberia but many returning, being protected. Is corruption it still ongoing? Reduced? Never will it be eliminated in this so-called Buddhist land.
August 9 – Viplava Day?
Cassandra is quaking in her Bata flip-flops dreading the 9th fast approaching. It is going to be a repeat of the 9th of July when one million or more persons congregated in Colombo? Sure this 9th will see smaller crowds but they may be less tame, though admittedly those of July 9th were far from tame. We are sick to the nostrils of protests since problems beset us from no fuel, rising costs and no money to meet them. It is very much the juncture to just stay put and let the government, however incompetent or detested it is, determine ways and means of getting the country out of the rut it is sunk in. The new Aragalaya took up its refrain with a new name substituted for Gota. Yes, it may be Ranil has adopted a new surname, but he is the Prez now so let him plan and execute some remedial action. His answer to the go home shout was succinct: build me a house and I will go. There enfolded was a stark and bitter truth. The 9th July protest ended with untold loss and damage to him and his poor wife, also a stampeding of public buildings, a severe blow to the reputation of the country.
The government led by RW(R?) must be restrained, very restrained. Let the protests proceed since they have lost their power – at least their drawing power – now. The Prez and his Cabinet just have to get down to the urgent businesses in hand and catch and punish arsonists and violence-demanding leaders of protests later on.We, the public and media, should stop naming the to-be protest ‘Aragalaya’. That died when GFG was swamped and peaceful protestors strangled and superseded by violent infiltrators
US never forgets, never gives up
Cassandra is glad the present leader of Al Qaeda and mastermind behind 9/11 attack on the NY Twin Towers – Ayman al-Zawahiri – was struck dead when he was on his balcony in Kabul on July 31, thus sparing other deaths and casualties. His family was safe. Excellent timing and spot on missile strike, no details of which I could get. The attack must surely have been from a spot in Kabul itself. The US had promised a reward of $25 m.. Goes to show the US trailed him for 20 long years with no let up though governments and presidents changed in the meantime.
President Biden announced he had granted permission to exterminate the deadly terrorist on 25 July. He said on July 31, announcing the killing, that he hoped it would bring ‘closure’ to families of the 3,000 people killed by the Al Qaeda. “Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more. The US continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend American people against those who seek to do us harm. Tonight we made it clear. No matter how long it takes. No matter where you try to hide. We will find you.”
Which immediately brings to mind no ‘closure’ to those whose loved ones died in the suicide attack on Easter Sunday 2019, nor compensation paid to those grievously injured; and no relief at all to the Cardinal. Comparatively so easy to punish those who were masterminds of the attack and those who allowed it by not taking due notice of definite warning given well in time, and others who neglected their duties. All of them right here in this dot of an island unlike in the case mentioned above where the terrorist was traced through combing Pakistan and then in Taliban controlled Afghanistan; maybe Saudi Arabia too.
Asarana trishaw drivers
Cassandra booked one of her two trishaw help karayas on Tuesday for an essential errand on Wednesday. Sampath promised to run less so he could reserve petrol for this. He tells Cass that they are given a meagre five litres of fuel for an entire week. “I run usually using up nearly five litres a day, so I am going to be without earning for six days.” That is cruel to these daily wage earners and the women who usually ride them. True, perpetuated were rackets, but why punish all for the crimes of some? Far more deplorable criminals are living free and easy. Why not give the five litres every other day? Are these poor chappies to suffer for the bungling of VVIPs who played pandu with the finances of the country?
The President’s ‘Throne Speech’ is encouraging and gives hope. We all hope and pray he will rise above petty consideration and come up with a solid plan for the economic upliftment of the country. No miracles are possible we being so far down. It is hoped fervently the shout for immediate elections is put on hold and more urgent matters attended to. Please NO mass rallies on 9th.
Need for best relations with China
(This letter was sent in before the announcement of the government decision to allow the Chinese survey vessel to dock at Hambantota – Ed.)
I once met Pieter Keuneman sometime after he had lost the Colombo Central at the general election of 1977. We met at the SSC swimming pool, where he had retreated since his favourite haunt at the Otters was under repair. Without the cares of ministerial office and constituency worries he was in a jovial mood, and in the course of a chat in reference to a derogatory remark by one of our leaders about the prime minister of a neighbouring country, he said, “You know, Ananda, we can talk loosely about people in our country, but in international relations care is needed in commenting on other leaders”.
Pieter, the scion of an illustrious Dutch burgher family, the son of Supreme Court judge A. E Keuneman, after winning several prizes at Royal College, went to Cambridge in 1935. There he became a part of the Communist circle, which included the famous spies Anthony Blunt, later keeper of the Queen’s paintings Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian commenting on this circle, wrote of the very handsome Pieter Keuneman from Ceylon who was greatly envied, since he won the affections of the prettiest girl in the university, the Austrian Hedi Stadlen, whom he later married. Representing the Communist Party in parliament from 1947 to 1977, soft-spoken in the manner of an English academic, Pieter belonged to a galaxy of leaders, whose likes we sorely need now.
I was thinking of Pieter’s comments considering the current imbroglio that we have created with China. Our relations with China in the modern era began in 1953, when in the world recession we were unable to sell rubber, and short of foreign exchange to purchase rice for the nation. The Durdley Senanayake government turned to China, with which we had no diplomatic ties. He sent R G Senanayake, the trade minister, to Peking, where he signed the Rice for Rubber Pact, much to the chagrin of the United States, which withdrew economic aid from Ceylon for trading with a Communist nation at the height of the Cold War.
Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1956 by S W R D Bandaranaike, and relations have prospered under different Sri Lankan leaders and governments, without a hint of discord. In fact, in addition to the vast amount of aid given, China has been a source of strength to Sri Lanka during many crises. In 1974, when the rice ration was on the verge of breaking due to lack of supplies, it was China, to which we turned, and who assisted us when they themselves were short of stocks. In the battle against the LTTE, when armaments from other countries dried up, it was China that supported us with arms, armoured vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft.
It was China and Pakistan that stood by our armed services in this dire crisis. More recently, amidst the furore, created by Western nations about human rights violations, China was at the forefront of nations that defended us. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK was ready with documents to present to the UN Security Council to press for war crimes trials against the Sri Lankan military, but the presence of China and Russia with veto powers prevented it from going ahead with its plan.
It is in this context that we have to view the present troubles that have engulfed us.President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the short period he has been in office, has won the sympathy of people by the speed with which he has brought some degree of normalcy, to what was a fast-disintegrating political environment. On the economic front, his quiet negotiations and decisions are arousing hopes.
A shadow has been cast over these achievements by the refusal to let in the Chinese ship to Hambantota, a decision made on the spur of the moment after first agreeing to allow it entry. The manner in which it was done is a humiliation for China, one administered by a friend. We must remember that these things matter greatly in Asia.
These are matters that can be rectified among friends, if action is taken immediately, recognising that a mistake has been made. The President should send a high-level representative to assure the Chinese leadership that these are aberrations that a small country suffers due to the threats of big powers, to smoothen ruffled feelings, and normalize relations between two old friends. The American-Indian effort to disrupt a 70-year old friendship, will only lead to its further strengthening in the immediate future
A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka
Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.
Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!
They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.
Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.
Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.
The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.
Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.
What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.
Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.
Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW
It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.
These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.
Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:
* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees
* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees
* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.
These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.
As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!
Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.
UPULl P Auckland
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