Emphasis by highlighting in blue is the work of The Editor, Thuppahi
ONE: “The Perfect Storm” by Ajit Kanagasundram in Sunday Island, 15 April 2018
The optimism that accompanied the Yahapalana government in 2015 has evaporated. We simply seem to have exchanged the misguided and dictatorial regime of Rajapaksa for the misguided and weak government of Sirisena/Ranil. There is a confluence of factors – political, economic, financial, inter-ethnic relations and international that are converging and will cause a major crisis within two years.
My title is a nautical term – The Perfect Storm. It refers to the convergence of gale force winds, strong tidal forces and huge waves that takes place in the Southern Atlantic in winter months. It is feared by seafarers as no ship could withstand it. This is a good analogy for what we as a nation face now. This is after experiencing a Storm in a Teacup (the No Confidence motion that was defeated in Parliament). The coalition between the UNP and Sirisena’s wing of the SLFP (a brilliant piece of political engineering by Chandrika Kumaratunga) was fragile in the first place as it brought together disparate elements united only by their liking for the perks of power with no common ideology. The only way they could hold together was if the leadership had quickly implemented the Joint Manifesto – an excellent and rational policy document — so that the coalition could continue to win future elections. The main points were to eliminate corruption and bring those responsible for industrial scale corruption in the previous regime to justice, privatize loss making government corporations, foster National Reconciliation and Justice, attract FDI by providing a benign investment environment and bring down the cost of living.
Instead this is what actually happened.
Time was frittered away in taking action against the kleptocrats of the previous regime. All it required was special courts under new legislation. Now the chance is lost and the lesson for politicians is – you can get away with it if you stall long enough. This was made worse by the Bond scandal. This held the nation enraptured for 18 months with daily revelations of dishonesty and to make it worse the ultimate loser was the EPF – the common man’s retirement fund. This forever tainted the UNP with corruption — when the truth is that the money lost is a fraction of what the previous regime stole or what Sri Lankan Airlines or the CPC lose each year. This was the single most damaging blunder by the present regime relating to its reputation and moral authority to counter corruption – a cancer eating into our national life.
The ability of the government to take the unpopular steps necessary to achieve national progress is undermined by political infighting within the coalition. The earlier constitutions had the virtue of simplicity and accountability– in the pre-1978 constitutions Cabinet responsibility and the Post 1978 constitution an all- powerful Presidency. Now after the 19th amendment, no one quite knows who is ultimately in charge. The President dissolves the Prime Minister’s Cabinet sub-committee on Economic Management and cabinet ministers publicly criticize government policy.The result is decision making paralysis. The only voice of sanity is the Central Bank Governor Dr Indrajit Coomaraswamy, who has warned that political instability will threaten foreign investment and economic growth.
The problem is that as a Harrow and Cambridge educated economist and gentleman he is too polite. It would be more effective to be blunt and use Bill Clinton’s famous phrase “It is the economy, Stupid” to concentrate politicians’ minds on what is really important.
We face three more elections in the next two years – Provincial, Presidential and Parliamentary. These are distracting our leaders and preventing the difficult decisions necessary – and the nation is enthralled by this Political Theatre (by far the most entertaining in the world) while the affairs of the nation are left to drift.
* The Ceylon Petroleum Corporations is losing Rs 244 million a week and prices will have to be raised. The government’s hands are tied on this as they have committed to the IMF to implement a transparent pricing formula to link the local prices to the international benchmark price of crude oil. The same goes for the electricity prices charged by the CEB.
* The CPC is running a 50 years old refinery whose efficiency (or lack of it) is such that it would be cheaper to import refined products and close down the refinery.
* We have committed to the IMF to selling loss making corporations like Sri Lankan Airlines and hotels like the Hilton and the half-completed Hyatt. This will be difficult as in the airline’s case the government will have to absorb $1 billion in past losses and our reputation for corruption in the purchase of planes and political interference is such that no reputed airline will touch us. In the case of the Hilton and the Hyatt the government will have to take a significant write off to attract a foreign buyer.
* There has been no significant FDI in the past two and a half years except for the aborted proposal to “build Volkswagens” in Sri Lanka. Actually, this was a scam to get government land cheap and was denied by Volkswagen management in Germany.
* When the inevitable financial crisis hits us in two years, the IMF will impose the same misguided conditions as they did in Greece in 2015 and which caused unnecessary hardship to their hapless people. This will involve higher taxes and reduction in expenditure on subsidies and services like health. This will deepen the recession, cause increased unemployment (in a country with no social safety net) and cause stress in a society with deep fissures along religious and ethnic lines. This may lead to more attacks on Muslims as there are no worthwhile Tamil targets left.
TWO: “Hobson’s Choice or “Homben Yana” Choice?” by Elmo Jayawardena, in Daily Mirror, 5 April 2018
Way back in the 16th century, there lived a man in Cambridge, England by the name of Thomas Hobson. He rented and sold horses and was the proud owner of a stable that had 40 stallions of all breeds. Anyone who wanted to rent a horse from him to ride the paddock or journey into the far horizon, paid money but was not allowed to select the horse.
- People were forced back to the ‘Homben Yana’ syndrome
- IN-power is innocent as lily-white, OUT-power is darker than the devil himself!
- electing a President to rule us for another six years would be a most daunting task for the voters
- SL struggled to find answers to the ever-multiplying woes its leadership brought upon its suffering masses
The ‘wanna be’ rider had only one choice. He had to take the horse that was in the stall nearest to the door. It was a simple matter of either ‘take it or leave it.’ When the word spread about this, it became known among possible horse renters that what they got was ‘Hobson’s Choice’.
Yet, they had one guarantee. The Hobson customer always got a horse to ride.
Now let me take you to the “Homben Yana” choice segment of my story. Of course, we don’t have a Thomas Hobson and 40 horses locked up in a fancy stable. What we, the sons and daughters of Sri Lanka have for choices, is the one and only Diyawanna Oya! Instead of 40 steeds, we have at least 40 thieves, like in the Ali Baba fable. Oh no! we are certainly not going to get stallions to ride into the glorious sunset simply because we voted sensibly! What we are assured of is yet another term of languishing in the Homben Yana status of our current existence. Whatever political choices we make, we end up with our chin shoved to the ground, that is what I mean when I said “Homben Yana.”
Presidential Elections came in 2015 and Diyawanna Oya changed colours. The winners had a Clarion Call that reverberated ‘corruption’ in flashing neon
Sri Lankans stood up proudly and faced the new world with hopes running high when we received our independence from the Colonial Masters in 1948. Yes, we were a united people of an independent paradise isle. But, from then on, it has been a slow slide, as the average Sri Lankan struggled to find answers to the ever-multiplying woes the country’s leadership brought upon its eternally suffering citizens.
Let’s look at the recent past, the 21st century, the ethnic war was in full swing when the new millennium dawned in the year 2000. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the 30-year old carnage ended in 2009 in Nandhikkadal. That entire story is best left in the past; too many people from all races and all religions suffered when unmarked graves or mounds of earth carried the victims of the miserable war. Then came the hope of peace, along with the blessed promise of prosperity. Things did change, less for some, more for others, but things did change for the better. But, unfortunately this euphoria didn’t last long. People were forced back to the ‘Homben Yana’ syndrome. Undoubtedly, the minorities got most of the flak.
Presidential Elections came in 2015 and Diyawanna Oya changed colours. The winners had a Clarion Call that reverberated ‘corruption, corruption, corruption’ in flashing neon. Nepotism and power-abuse were also added to the sin-list along with other misdeeds with which the winners branded the defeated. New hopes began to sprout out and the Homben Giya proletariat slowly rose to their feet pleading that the new brooms sweep Lanka clean.
A bright and beautiful life filled with marsh-mallow dreams was offered to the masses by the new coalition regime occupying Diyawanna Oya. We, the Homben Yana population of Lanka came out of the blocks like Olympic sprinters, full of vim and vigour. New appointments were made to bring justice to the fore. This committee and that commission went into action to crucify the culprits who supposedly stole from our national wealth. Yes, they erected the cross and brought in the nails and the hammer, but alas! There was no one to crucify. A lot of noise was made, but the brooms didn’t sweep at all. I only read in the papers the likes of a school principal who was sentenced to 5 years of rigorous imprisonment for taking a bribe of Rs.150,000 to admit a child to her school!
We can leave all that for now and take a time out to give a rousing cheer to 007 who came from Singapore. Of course, he had friends and that too in the right places. So, he did what he wanted to do and high-tailed it to Singapore, and perhaps, as I write, is sipping a chilled Margarita sitting on a wicker chair in the prestigious Raffle’s Hotel. And we who have lost Rs.11 billion (could be much more – I don’t know) are back in the Homben Yana status while helplessly despising Diyawanna Oya for its unbelievable tomfoolery! There goes a pompous fairy-tale, if ever there was one.
The country’s future does look fractured and bleak. The front pages of the newspapers are filled with political Tug-o-wars where there are serious doubts about who’s pulling for whom
In the current state of the country, the future does look fractured and bleak. The front pages of the daily newspapers are always filled with political Tug-o-wars where there are serious doubts on who’s pulling for whom. The fact remains that it’s impossible to figure out who’s on whose side and how sincere their allegiances are. Of course, there could be a thief or more who is pulling nothing while pretending a ‘full dum’ action on the rope. This sure is a shambolic sambol we face as spectators or should I say Homben Yana people [?] of the current political drama, wondering from which way the wind is blowing and in whose favour? Yet in some perverted way it is rather interesting too, watching the trapeze artistes of the Diayawanna Circus doing their dare-devil performances. They swing from side to side and find safe footholds to shine prominently again under different Godfathers promising different dreams. With three elections on the cards there’s sure to be some excitement for the Homben Yana masses, yes, you and I are the ones who are still waiting for manna to fall from heaven.
For a start, we need newly-elected Provincial and Parliamentary Ministers. We saw the recent local elections. It was peaceful and for that we must be thankful. But the aftermath was the grand show; a free-for-all on the evening TV screens, where the vulgarity of language and the uncouth and rowdy behaviour of some local leaders were regularly showcased. Who’s innocent and who’s guilty – I do not know. But it sure fills me with shame to see the future leaders of my country behaving so disgustingly.
The final mega-election will be the ‘Presidential’. Whether it would come before parliamentary election or after is anybody’s guess. But selecting a President to rule us for another six years would be a most daunting task for the people of Sri Lanka. Yes, we shall go to the polls again possibly in 2020 and cast our vote for our favourite candidate and wait for the final ballot count. I wonder whether it would matter much who wins or loses? Whichever way the cookie crumbles, the winners will walk tall with boastful promises blowing out of their double-dealing mouths. Of course, all the blame of the country’s misfortunes would be packed and loaded on the backs of the powers that lost. Nothing but the usual story that we are so used to hearing. IN-power is innocent as lily-white, OUT-power is darker than the devil himself! As for us, the inheritors of this God-given paradise, it probably will be just another pipe dream with a lifespan of six years on a Homben Yana gait, till the next Presidential election takes place again. Hope would spring again, and like fools we would cheer the ones who have been newly elected to gift us a land filled to the brim with milk and honey.
So much for the choices we make, will we ever learn that we are choice-less?
- Rajan Philips: “Is he the worst leader, or has the nastiness of the attacks on him gone beyond the political pale?How do you solve a problem like Ranil Wickremesinghe?“ Sunday Island, 15 April 2018, http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=183173
- Kumar David: “Why Lanka’s Parliament has declined and decayed ..,” in Sunday Island, 15 April 2018 http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=183176