| by Senguttuvan
( 03 March 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is not a rare sight in a 3rd world country, pretending to be quintessentially democratic, to see wave after wave of State-inspired demonstrations to uphold the waning popularity of its despotic rulers in controversial issues. We have seen this in Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Libya before the fall of the dictators there. The world is somewhat weary of such shows being put on even today by Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and the familial rule in North Korea. The megolomaniacs in these countries hold their people virtual prisoners under their iron grips – systematically emptying their coffers in their own brands of misappropriation, profligacy and vulgar extravagance. This week it was Sri Lanka’s turn. People, many of them criminals, the unemployed and students, were there in large numbers coming from several parts of the country. Their task was to come to the streets carrying placards in support of the government and sharply criticizing the UN, the USA, Britain being the main targets of their ready-made ire. The whole object was to vainly create the impression the people en masse are aghast their President is singled out by the UN, EU, USA and Britain – for punishment “for the good he did in getting rid of the dreaded LTTE – both for the country and the world” There is much doubt if many of the demonstrators understand what the demos are for. As the American Ambassador Patrician Butenis told in her interview with Reporter Darisha Bastians, when asked if the US is aware of the strong feelings of the Lankan people on the proposed US resolution are put it bluntly “I am not sure how aware the Sinhala people – the main community – are of the issues” Ambassador Butenis went out to openly tell the Lankan people the ultimate purpose of the strong moves by the USA and other Western counties was “to get the Sri Lanka Government publicly committed (for an independent investigation in the May 2009 events and justice to the Tamils) in the international forum” So there we are.
A close look at the politics of the country of recent years show the 3 more powerful Rajapakse Brothers- Percy Mahinda, the President; Basil – the man who controls the purse strings of the cash-strapped near-broke country and the unpredictable Gotabaya, Defence Secretary who controls the army and the other uniformed forces. All 3 brothers between them also control dozens of Ministries that gobble up over 70% of the country’s budget. Much of these funds should have rightly gone to other Ministers for disbursement in their own ministries. But things do not work that way in Sri Lanka since the Rajapakses arrived on the scene. The Cabinet, at least in name, is said to be the largest Cabinet of Ministers for its size and population in the world. There is a common joke going around asking what is the common factor between the powerful 3 brothers? According to former PM and currently Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe “their educational background is such – even if you add up the real IQ levels of all 3 – you cannot reach the basic GCE (Ordinary) Level standards” (the stage at which high-school students pass out and are candidates to the lower clerical positions in the job market) This is surely an exaggeration. Each of them may have at least gone past the SSC mark, thought technically President Rajapakse has got past his basic law examinations. But it is a point of fact none of them is known to be capable of making extended speeches, even in Sinhala, on important issues inside or outside Parliament except on the occasions they read from written scripts.
The comical situation is such that many experienced and senior ministers, suspected to have lost the confidence of the President, are virtually de-fanged and consigned to the new and hollow rank of “Senior Ministers” with neither ministries, subjects nor even basic office space or staff worth mentioning. One such garrulous minister, to show his contempt to the President, comes to office driven in his super-expensive limousine often dressed in Bahama shorts.
In the streets today otherwise drunken hordes lead by Ministers and MPs in the government – variously identified by the US government agencies as drug-traffickers, kidnappers, extortionists and armed thugs – work up and lead these “popular demonstrations of the people” They are forced to carry placards reading “USA – Don’t support LTTE Terrorism” notwithstanding it was the USA who banned the LTTE first. ”Don’t fall for Diaspora Dollars” is a switch to the new bogey in the continuing “enemies of the Sinhala race” created and maintained by successige different Sinhala-majority governments from the 1960s.
The entire exercise is a knee-jerk reaction orchestrated for President Mahinda Rajapakse by those said to be close to him – sycophants – perhaps being an impolite description. Rajapakse sees himself under siege from many sides from self-inflicted troubles for him and his faltering government. He is said to entertain fears both he and his brothers may be hauled up at the Hague – or at best, subject to travel bans such as one imposed on Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the rogue Generals in Myanmar For the first time in the history of this country several senior ministers were despatched to visit various countries in Africa to help save him from a UN censure vote in Geneve in late this March. It is believed substantial money is being thrown to achieve the Rajapakse objective of winning votes at Geneva.
Contrary to the hype built up by the Rajapakses at home up to now the headlines are on the much more bigger and important Syrian issue that has divided the West Vs China-Russia. The networks spend very little time on the discomfort of the Rajapakses although a stricture during the closing sessions of the Sessions end March appears almost certain. The 3-week UNHR sessions looks into complaints from over 20 countries although in Sri Lanka the Rajapakses have succeeded in misleading the country the many leading countries have descended in Geneva only to punish the Rajapakses.
The Opposition charges Rajapakses are over-dramatising the issue purely to divert the attention of an enraged populace country from a staggering rise in the price of fuel, cooking gas, electricity, vegetables, food items, fish, meat and other daily essentials – some of which have risen by over 50% The Opposition charges while the Landed Cost at the Port for a litre of Octane 90 petrol is no more than Rs.70/litre whereas the government sells this at Rs.150 i.e. double its cost merely to cover up the huge losses on profligacy, pilfering and wastage in most Contracts and purchases of the State. A noted Economist this week told an audience of professionals the accumulated losses from MihinAir, Sri Lankan Airlines, CPC, CEB and other grandiose loss-making projects could be in excess of US$50 billion. The Contract awarded to a group of Chinese firms for the production of vital electricity in the Noracholai Plant costing hundreds of millions of dollars appears to be a near scam. The Plant remains virtually closed from the time of commission in recent times – with the engineers of the Chinese contracting party having taken flight. The open secret is key people in the government have used their influences to give the business to flybynight firms in China and have pocketed large commissions. The country was spared another economic disaster when the Rajapakses pet project to host the Commonwealth Games was lost to Australia – after swallowing millions of dollars in the vain effort. People in the country wonder whether such a project is necessary for the country at this juncture of her economic woes – but this hardly seems to bother the Rajapakses.
As to Shavendra Silva, the problem of the Senior Advisory Group Chair Madame Louise Frechette is not with Sri Lanka being denied sitting in the Group, it is more a question of Shavendra Silva, alleged to be a war criminal for leading his .regiment to shell heavy artillery fire on clearly marked Hospitals and civilian targets. The UN’s position is with such blatant charges against Silva it is “inappropriate” he should be part of any UN apparatus unless he is cleared. Shavendra Silva forcing himself must be considered an ugly faux pas in the diplomatic history of the UN and brings no credit to the country. Another curious factor is how both Dr. Palitha Kohona and Shavendra Silva are designated as Ambassadors – whereas there can be only one Ambassador for a country only holding a specific position.
Contrary to what President Rajapakse misleading his country theUS, EU and the world are not against Rajapakse and his army decimating Prabakaran and his LTTE. The charge here is the SLA killed multiple thousands of innocent women, children, the old and the infirm outside the collateral damage reality. In today’s address by the UNSG Ban Ki Moon he refers to Egypt, Syria and Libya and notes “the regimes there targeted their own people for mass murder” Sri Lanka lost its credibility when the leadership at various times claimed “zero casualties” – a claim they quickly changed – more than once “from a few hundreds” which later became “a few thousands” While most GoSL figures like to suggest the number of dead and badly injured are in the region of 7,000 only the UN’s figures disputes this and places the figures at 7,721 dead and 18,749 badly injured between August 2008 to the 1st week of May 2009. For good measure they add they have “strong grounds to believe GoSL numbers under estimate actual casualties during the period” Highly respected former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and Bishop Desmond Tutu speaking for the Elders Group note “the focus of the UN is to serve the interest of Universal Rights and international legal obligations” Their subsequent statement is consistent with many within Sri Lanka who believe the Rajapakses have failed the country both economically and in the diplomatic front viz- “Sri Lanka’s recent history concerns all of us” Mrs Navi Pillai making a general statement on Syria but referring to all guilty parties said “the international community will not stand and watch this carnage. Those who commit these atrocities will not go unpunished” The R2P Protocol, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, is committed to go to the defence of people in any country under armed attack from its own government be they in Syria, Libya or Egypt where Hospitals, Schools, Water Tanks were all deliberately targetted. It was only 2 days ago Sudan’s Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Mohamed Husein was reported to the Hague IC Court for crimes committed in his role as Interior Minister during 2003-2004 when he caused the death of multiple thousands of civilians in Darfur.
Our lack of ability to counter the many diplomatic challenges that face the country is best illustrated by that simpleton Jaliya Wickramasuriya, who was given that high position in Washington only because he was related to the Rajapakses. He seems to let both the Rajapakses and Sri Lanka down whenever he is exposed to the outside world. Gathering up a group of Sri Lankans and US citizens in Washington recently – a paid effort – titled the Serendipity Group, he embarrassed the audience by using the word “rump” Clearly, the man, poor in English, does not understand the meaning of the tasteless word that is never used in decent and polite society – particularly when there are ladies around. But the Rajapakses continue to fool the Lankan people all their problems with the West is because they got rid of VP-the Tigers. The astonishing thing is a fair amount of the Sri Lankan people appear to go by this version, while, in fairness to the Sri Lankan people there are just as many who silently see the regime taking the country down the drain.
Compounding the Rajapakses woes comes the news Tamilnadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha and former CM Karunanidhi have written separate but strong letters to Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh to back the US Resolution – a request Dr. Singh will find difficult to ignore. Will the Rajapakses now reach for the support of the mercurial Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, who recently visited the Hambantota District, and who is convinced President Rajapakse is now sanitised to be nominated for the next Padma Shri.