Tuesday 26th April, 2022
Pressure is mounting on the government to step down. Some powerful trade unions representing teachers, doctors and other state employees are also calling on the crumbling regime to resign, paving the way for an interim administration to steer the country out of the present crisis, but the SLPP leaders are holding on to power like limpets. Speculation is rife that there will be a general strike in support of the ongoing efforts to engineer a regime change. As for its survival, the government will have the same chances as a cat in hell in case of a general strike. It had better opt for an honourable exit—and fast.
When protesters demand that all 225 MPs go home, they seem to think that only politicians are responsible for the mess the country finds itself in. Successive governments have ruined this country, and the present dispensation has perhaps made the biggest contribution to the current economic collapse. Hence it is nothing but fair that politicians are held responsible for the country’s bankruptcy. Some of their bitterest critics, however, are not free from blame for the current situation, which has driven the people to protest.
The state spends billions of rupees on school education annually, but has teachers’ performance been satisfactory? If so, why is it that the demand for supplementary or shadow education is on the rise? Private tuition for children costs every family a sizeable chunk of its monthly income, doesn’t it? Students are dependent on private tutors to prepare themselves for competitive examinations although their schools take the credit for their results. School admissions are synonymous with corruption, and the national anti-graft commission has so far nabbed quite a few principals for taking bribes. So, the question is why only politicians are raked over the coals for bribery and corruption, the abuse of authority, inefficiency, dereliction of duty, etc.
Doctors are also asking the present government to step down, and one cannot but endorse their call. But will the ouster of the present set of rulers alone help solve problems in the health sector. Do all health workers comply with the state attendance policy? Are their overtime claims properly audited? Are there any categories of health workers who do not sign in and out in a transparent manner but claim colossal amounts as overtime? If so, doesn’t it amount to corruption? Can the health workers who get paid for the work they do not do, and resort to their trade union power to scare the authorities into submission, consider themselves different from the corrupt politicians?
Lawyers also deserve praise for having taken up the cudgels on behalf of the protesters who are taken into custody or face police brutality. They are also right in ratcheting up pressure on the government to resign. Politicians exploit the public. Are lawyers different? All professions are conspiracies against the laity, according to Bernard Shaw. Perhaps, lawyers are the worst conspirators, as it were. One of the serious allegations against the present dispensation is that it effected huge tax cuts for the benefit of its cronies. Do lawyers pay taxes properly? Do they issue receipts for the money they receive from their clients to make the taxman’s job easy?
Many public sector trade unions have pledged solidarity with the protesters. Let them be thanked for that, but shouldn’t they turn the searchlight inwards? The state service is terribly overstaffed and has earned notoriety for inefficiency, inordinate delays, bribery, corruption and callous disregard for the rights and grievances of the public. There are of course excellent public institutions, which deserve praise, but sadly they are the exception that proves the rule. What action have the public sector trade unions that are out for politicians’ scalps taken to improve the productivity of the state service and make it people-friendly? The public service will not improve automatically after the ouster of the beleaguered government, will it?
Surprisingly, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has escaped the wrath of the protesting public although the blame for the current power crisis has to be apportioned to it. A report we publish today reveals that the CEB could have added 300MW of cheap power to the national grid by 2022 if it had not blocked some hydro projects in 2016. Can we cleanse the CEB and other vital state institutions of corrupt elements by getting rid of only rogues in the garb of politicians?
It is popularly said in this country that one could absolve oneself of all one’s sins by worshiping at the Kelaniya Temple only once. Today, the Galle Face Green (GFG) has become the political version of the Kelaniya Temple; some rogues think they could rid themselves of all their sins by visiting the GFG once and mingling with genuine protesters who are on a mission to dislodge the failed government, which has to step down before being thrown out. These crooks must not be allowed to take the public for a ride.
Restoring dignity of legislature
Tuesday 17th May, 2022
There has been a severe erosion of public faith in all three branches of government, albeit to varying degrees. The less said about the executive, the better; it has become a total failure. The scales of justice are tilted in favour of politicians in power and their kith and kin, and rogues walk free, as a result. The legislature has become a huge liability, and one sees hardly any difference between it and the Mattala International Airport.
The country is mired in an unprecedented economic crisis, but the legislature apparently does not care two hoots about people’s suffering. Parliament should have convened a few days earlier to discuss ways and means of resolving the worsening crisis and restoring social order, but the Speaker’s request to the President to summon Parliament urgently went unheeded. The party leaders were also not keen to have Parliament convened before 17 May. Instead, they had some meetings themselves; they are all hat and no cattle. Even when the House is in session, its members are busy settling political scores instead of addressing national issues. Some sensible MPs have called for a course correction, warning that the people are so incensed that they might even set Parliament on fire. Their warning should be heeded if trouble is to be averted.
Parliament always gets its priorities mixed up, and wastes its time and public funds. The recent election of the Deputy Speaker is a case in point. Deputy Speaker Ranjith Siyambalapitya resigned because his party, the SLFP, pulled out of the government. He was re-elected to the same post a few days later. He resigned again on some flimsy grounds. The House is scheduled to elect a new Deputy Speaker, today. No wonder, protesters are trying to march on Parliament.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Parliament should have a female Deputy Speaker. One cannot but agree with him on this score. In a male-dominated House, women must be able to have their voice heard. It is hoped that a female MP will be unanimously elected to that post, today, for several reasons.
Women, who constitute more than one half of the Sri Lankan population, are not adequately represented in Parliament or any other political institution; we have only 12 female MPs at present. There should be more women in Parliament as well as the Cabinet. Respect for women is zero in the House. Some MPs have the despicable habit of dragging others’ mothers and wives into their slanging matches, and their speeches are replete with smutty jokes or other forms of double entendre or risqué humour. There are occasions when the men in kapati suits even trade raw filth unflinchingly. The situation is far worse in the local government institutions, where female councillors are not even allowed to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. They complain that whenever they take the floor, they are greeted with boos and catcalls from their male counterparts. Harassment has caused them to sink their political differences and fight for their rights, together, and they deserve public support for their struggle. We suggest that the misogynists in the garb of people’s representatives who harass female representatives in Parliament, the local councils, etc., be named and shamed besides being made to face disciplinary action.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is reported to have decided to form several committees consisting of the MPs of all political parties to explore ways and means of tackling various issues. This idea is sure to find favour with those who want to see the country come out of the present crisis. We believe that there is a need for the appointment of a special parliamentary committee consisting of female MPs to address the issues that affect housewives and other women.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene, like his predecessors, has been struggling to restore the dignity of Parliament, but it is doubtful whether his efforts have yielded the desired results; protesters are demanding that all 225 MPs go home. One can only hope Parliament will get its priorities right, and refrain from turning the election of the Deputy Speaker into a political battle.
Monday 16th May, 2022
It never rains but it pours. Sri Lanka has had more than its fair share of misfortunes during recent years, but there seems to be no end to them. A report published by The Hindu says the Indian intelligence has warned that the LTTE is regrouping to carry out terrorist attacks in this country; it must have sent a chill down the spine of every peace-loving Sri Lankan.The Indian media reported that the Defence Ministry of Lanka had initially denied the report in question as baseless, and claimed there was no such threat; it had received no intelligence warning of any such threat. But according to a news item published in this newspaper today, the Defence Ministry says it has sought more information from the Indian intelligence agencies about the warning. It had better act fast; it has a history of dillydallying, making colossal blunders and jeopardising national security. In 2019, it took an Indian intelligence outfit’s warning of a series of bomb attacks for granted, and a group of terrorists carried out the Easter Sunday carnage with ease.
If there is no threat of LTTE attacks, as the Defence Ministry seems to imply, every peace-loving Sri Lankan will be happy, but in dealing with terrorism, a state has to plan for the worst-case scenario if surprises are to be avoided. Terrorists make the most of economic crises, and socio-political upheavals to stage comebacks. There has been irrefutable evidence of attempts being made consistently to revive the LTTE.In January 2022, the Tamil Nadu police busted an international network of ex-Tiger cadres and sympathisers engaged in raising funds for reviving the LTTE. According to The Hindu, in October 2021, the National Investigation Agency of India revealed before a special court in Kochi that ‘two Tamil Nadu natives arrested in connection with the seizure of drugs, were working secretly for furthering the activities of the LTTE under the supervision of leaders of the organisation in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka and other foreign countries.’ In 2010, the Indian police arrested three LTTE cadres with more than 5,000 detonators which were to be smuggled into Sri Lanka. Several LTTE cadres have been arrested with arms and explosives in this country as well. In January 2017, the Terrorist Investigation Department arrested four ex-Tigers over an alleged plot to assassinate a TNA MP in Jaffna.What remains of the LTTE may not be so strong as to mount large-scale attacks but some of its cadres may be able to carry out ambushes, political assassinations, and attacks on civilian targets.One can only hope that the Defence authorities will do everything in their power to neutralise possible terrorist threats, and what is feared will not come to pass.
Curiouser and curiouser
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has reportedly said the ‘Gotago Gama’ protest should go on, and the government is ready to provide necessary assistance to the protesters. There is absolutely no need for state sponsorship, as it were, for an anti-government protest; and the protesters themselves have rejected the PM’s offer out of hand, for such assistance will be tantamount to the kiss of death for the protest movement. The protesters have asked the PM to ensure that the SLPP goons who attacked them on 09 May are arrested and prosecuted. This demand is nothing but fair and should be granted forthwith.It will be interesting to know the reaction of the President’s Office to the PM’s offer at issue to the protesters. What will happen in case of the protesters achieving their goal—the ouster of the President—and who will stand to gain in such an eventuality?
Another power centre in the government is bound to emerge around the newly-appointed Prime Minister. The government has undertaken to restore the 19th Amendment fully in the form of the 21st Amendment to be brought in. If this pledge is carried out, the President will be stripped of his vital executive powers, and the Prime Minister will become the de facto Head of State; a defeated candidate who has entered Parliament via the National List will become more powerful than the President elected by 6.9 million people! Such a scenario will make a mockery of the people’s franchise.
Welcome to Sri Lanka, a land like no other!
Ranil with president, people or both?
New Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told a British journalist at the Walukaramaya temple where he had gone to obtain blessings after being sworn as prime minister for the sixth time in his 73 years that Churchill became Britain’s prime minister in 1939 with only four MPs. He’s become Sri Lanka’s with one! This was typical Wickremesinghe parrying questions with debating flair. He knows European history, perhaps a little better than he knows Sri Lanka’s. But there too he is no neophyte. Hours after his swearing, Ven. Omalpe Sobhitha, today a very visible political monk in the anti-Gotabaya camp declared this was a “deal.” What else can it be? How else can the man who brought the UNP down to zero in the incumbent parliament, and thereafter procrastinated for months in filling their only national list seat before taking it himself become the prime minister of a government not yet into its second year?
What can be the bottom line of any alleged deal? Obviously there will be no chasing Ali Baba and his forty thieves. That said, there will be many who will believe that Ranil is the best man for the present moment. He has more experience than any of his rivals in the political field and he is certainly no fool. His pro-western and pro-business tilt is a given. That perhaps was why one of the earliest congratulatory tweets was from the U.S. ambassador in Colombo. Mahinda Rajapaksa and Namal too were among the early tweeters. Maybe they feel less hounded now. GR obviously would not have made his pick without the confidence that the majority of the SLPP will back his choice. That however may not be unanimous. Vasudeva Nanayakkara for instance cannot be expected to support a UNP prime minister. But there are many that can be influenced by office; others by protection and not a few must watch their backs. Aiyo (or Cheerio) Sirisena can tilt either way; but however that be, he will not he able to chart the course for the whole group of SLFP MPs. Also, will Sajith Premadasa who has clearly dropped a catch by procrastinating in taking an offer he now feels he should not have refused be able to hold his group together?
There are capable, untainted MPs in the SJB with the ability to selflessly serve a national revival government that the country desperately needs. Wickremesinghe will be glad to have them. But whether they will chance their future political careers by serving a government created by a political horse deal remains to be seen. Public opinion is near unanimous that what GR has done is in the Rajapaksa interest including his own. Anybody coming on board will not be cheered. No doubt many Pohottuwa MPs, bleeding from the blows that their personal property have taken from the ugly turn of what was at first an idealistic, non-violent protest to get the Rajapksas out of the national polity, will now do what’s best for themselves: protection from further attack and, perhaps, compensation down the road. They will remember REPIA (Rehabilitation of Property and Industries Authority) that followed Black July 1983 when victims were compensated.
That Gotabaya must go remains the national demand and it is unlikely (if not impossible) that the president has appointed a prime minister who is out for his blood. Mahinda Rajapaksa, before he succumbed to lunacy and let loose an organized horde on the Galle Face protesters appeared confident of his numbers in parliament. Despite all that has happened since, the likelihood is that the no confidence vote against the president, like the touted impeachment, remains a long shot. If that is the way the process unravels and the outcome favours Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then Ranil Wickremesinghe is home and dry. But for how long is an imponderable in the context of what cinema-goers brand as a “fast breaking serial.”
The Colombo stock market reacted positively to the political developments with both the broad based All Share Price Index and S&P SL20 covering more liquid shares gaining sharply on Friday on a respectable turnover. That, of course, does not mean that investors are now confident that Sri Lanka has turned the corner and is back on track towards regaining political and economic stability. Stock indicators are volatile and their signals are for the day; not even for the short term. Important considerations on whether a new prime minister and government are going to be good for the country will include the external view. The West is likely to favour present developments and India may fall in line. Whether China will come on board is an open question.
Soon after his swearing, Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the Galle Face protests will be allowed to continue as at present and there will be no interference. But hours before he said that police warned over loudspeakers on the green that a curfew was on and nobody was permitted in public places. But they didn’t enforce their threat. Already burnt by their tepid response to the Temple Trees horde setting upon the ‘Gota Go Home’ crowd, the Rambukkana shooting and perhaps what happened to SDIG Deshabandu Tennekoon, the cops were pussyfooting. But the ‘clear the green’ announcement would not have been made without clearance from the top. Now there’s a ‘lay off’ order from the new PM. So let’s wait and see how events unfold.
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