The Sunday Leader

Conning the poor

Sri Lanka is a caring nation and come religious events of all major religions, the poor are not forgotten. Christmas it is said is the time not only for merriment but also time to think of the less fortunate among us. Some of the poor recipients may not even have any notion of the efforts made such as by affluent ladies and gentlemen, at great cost to themselves, dancing till dawn. Nonetheless the needy benefit from these efforts and that’s what it is all about.

Less ostentatious events than such charity balls are held at Christmas time and during other religious festivities but all this is not enough. The numbers of street children in Colombo are proliferating. Shacks with nothing more than corroding tin roofs and newspapers for walls housing six to seven human beings are coming up parallel to rail tracks for miles on end. Poverty in rural areas is worse. This we should realise is all a part of Shining Sri Lanka which is now said to be a land of the climbing GNP.

The tragedy of Sri Lanka appears to be that we have fallen in between the stools of welfare socialism and crony capitalism wrapped up in a blanket of hypocritical democracy. We had a socialist welfare state from the time of independence till 1977 where more than 75 per cent of the populace were grovelling in poverty. From then on we had crony capitalism to date with obeisance being paid to poverty alleviation on TV in the presence of the country’s chief dramatist personae. Has Premadasa’s Gam Udawas, Chandrika’s Samurdhi programmes and Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Udanayas’ in different provinces  benefited  the poor?

Those religious dignitaries who keep blessing political scoundrels and racketeers that seek their patronage should instead tell the politicians adept at the art of conning that mere lip service to the poor is not enough and exposition of their religious fervour in public will not alleviate the poor from their sufferings. Definite well funded programmes by the state are required to transform urban and rural dwellings of the poor from living hells into modest, hygienic abodes whose inhabitants earn a decent living.

Let those preachers who hector us in early morning religious sermons on radio and TV and other public programmes tell those who seek their blessings to win elections that the sins or karma committed by them by pretending to alleviate will boomerang. These religious worthies are themselves responsible for the present situation by extending patronage to the scoundrels and racketeers.

The war is now over. Instead of paying poojas and hosannas to the victors of war — whoever they may be — the question should be asked why the war expenditure that we were told was costing billions of dollars cannot now be diverted for the benefit of the suffering masses. When wars ended in the West the cry was to convert guns into butter. For us Sri Lankans the cry should be for the conversion of guns into rice and curry. But the price of a ‘buth packet’ is near Rs.100 which the poor cannot afford.

For the past four years, we were told that development work was crippled because of war expenditure. The war was the excuse for projects and proposals that could have been for the public benefit to be stalled. With the war having been declared as over seven months ago has not war expenditure been reduced to a significant extent? If not where did the money go? The public is in the dark about the beneficial fallout of the end of the three decade old conflict.

Let the public know firstly whether the war has ended. Obviously it has not because the military surveillance such as sentry points still remain. Government spokesmen themselves have expressed fears about the LTTE being revived abroad. Whatever the case may be, the man on the street will like to know the status of the conflict: has it ended or is it still continuing? The people cannot be lulled into living in fools’ paradise of no war while at the same time being deprived of the simple joys of life they are entitled to.

War hysteria has been transformed into election hysteria. The great debate conducted in the state media is: Who won the war and the answer is provided immediately. But what of the immediate concerns of the vast majority of the people? The cost of living is unbearable and the economy appears to be in pretty bad shape whatever the statistics of Nivard Cabraal, the Central Bank politically appointed chief may say and whatever the smiling moustachioed face on the thousand rupee note may indicate. All we know of a thousand rupee note is that it disappears today as fast as a one hundred rupee note two to three years ago.

The common opposition candidate General Sarath Fonseka too has not said much about the state of the economy. It’s best he be honest and not issue the standard political cons and rather study the economy before making his pledges. General Fonseka and the two main leaders of the opposition coalition from the UNP and JVP should clearly state the positions which Ranil Wickremesinghe and he would hold in the event he triumphs in the election.

Meanwhile the national problem of the country remains untouched and not even spoken of. It is the cause of all our woes since 1958. The war leaves the grievances and problems of the Tamils untouched. Even though some Sinhalese activists may ask what are the problems that the Tamils have not applicable to the Sinhalese, all Tamil political parties are seeking the resolution of their problems. The Tamil problem cannot be wished away even though the conflict has ended. Reports from the north and east say that tens and thousands of Tamils may not be able to cast their votes because they do not possess identity cards. Whose fault is that? Speculation among political analysts is that most of the Tamils will not cast their ballots. This is the result of calling for a presidential election that could have been held two years later.

Voters are confused about what the future holds. Between now and January 26 is the time to talk sense and not political balderdash.

5 Comments for “Conning the poor”

  1. N K Ratnam

    To all those who ask what is the problem that Tamils have that the Sinhalese do not have.

    The Sinhalese can choose their own rulers and be ruled by their choice. The Tamils can’t. The Tamils are ruled by the Sinhalese’s choice. This is what one calls freedom. Freedom to influence their rulers.

    When over 300,000 of their people were held behind barbred wires by a government the Tamils could not influence the government to release them The Sinhalaese did not demonstrate enmass to release the Tamils which is understandable because it doesn’t concern them. But the Tamil were powerless. Can one imagine a Sri Lankan Government in the aftermath of the JVP insurrection taking all the civilians of the JVP hartlands and incarcerating them for 6 months to “screen” them, to weed out JVP cadres and sympathisers. This will never happen because the government is answerable to its people ie Sinhalese.
    It is not answerable to the Tamil people that is why it happened. This is only one aspect of freedom and self governance.

    All what the Tamil people are asking for is a government that is answerable to the Tamil people. That is what the Sinhalese have and the Tamils do not have.

    • raguna

      I sympathize with you on the plight of the displaced Tamils after the war but don;t fully agree with your comparison to JVP.

      Where were you in 1971 and late 1980′s during the JVP insurgencies. Not in SL, or at least not in the South I suppose. Tens of thousands of youth were killed in each. In 1971 under SLFP govt. it was estimated around 20,000 to be killed and 1n 1980′s (UNP) the casualty figure goes as high as 40,000. In addition thousands of youth were kept either in prison or in rehabilitation camps. I think there was not a single family in the south who did not have at least one close relative killed either by army or by JVP.

      I remember the agony of my wife in trying to protect my growing up sons and in addition she had to accommodate her brothers son too. So this terrorism and its sufferings are common to all of us. And it was Sinhalese leaders who ordered to kill JVP cardres, not because they belonged to a certain race or religion but because they were insurgents at the time.

  2. Dilshan

    Buddhism or Christianity were introduced to Eelam from overseas. Both are Alien Religions and controlling and conning our Singheelam and Tamileelam people for a very very LONG Time.

    Its time to chase them out.

  3. MotleyFOOL

    This editorial should be re-captioned as not “Conning the Poor”, but as “ROBBING THE POOR”. This is a new realistic CRIMINAL adventure that puts the fictional “Robin Hood” and his “Merry Men” to shame. This has to be the new version to that sequel called “ROBBING NO-GOOD” in the Serendib Forrest with “Master-Rogue’s Kudu Javarum Men” running riot helped by allies like Merv and the band of murderers. What a show! This is reality TV MR style.
    Dear VOTERS, lets UNITE and “F” them all come January’26!

  4. preventcorrupt

    Nudity of Politicians of Government officials should be xposed to poor citizensHow to Prevent Corruption in Sri Lanka and Support the General for Presidency.

    • The average person in Sri Lanka think bribery and corruption as the small notes slipped into the hands of a Traffic Cop, a hospital warded or may be bit large sums to school principles for admission of a child. Although this too is a very bad conduct, the real facts of corruption are not understood by most.
    • The effects of corruption on economy, thereby making the hungry child hungrier by way of increased prices of rice and bread as well as not being able to afford basic comfort is not visible to the average voter.
    • It is essential that this fact is made known to every citizen so that any politician or officer involved in corruption is not accepted and discarded as a cancer in the society.
    • Although news papers expose of massive frauds the average person is not concerned as the effects on them is not visible in the short term. They will praise the politicians who will ceremonially open bridges, buildings and projects but the underlying corruption and the amount of corruption involved is not known. The fact that less than 60 percent of the total expenditure is actually spent on the works and the balance has one into the pockets of politicians and officers involved are not known.
    • Consider the massive expenses made on construction of flyovers which have been funded through British loans. Why steel bridges instead of concrete bridges. Larger the amount estimated larger the percentage of commission. The real culprits are the officials in the Road Development Authority and the Ministry. These corrupted officials had not analyzed the life cycle cost of these projects, the actual cost of capital and the effect on the economy of Sri Lanka, just for the sake of extracting larger share of commission from the contractors. These corrupted officials have devised ways of maximizing their share by manipulating the entire tender process.
    • These traitors arrange with the lending agencies to limit the contractors mostly nominated few and no actual tendering process is followed while the local agent of the contractor manipulates with the officials of the Government as well as the Ministry and arrange to jack up estimated cost. This process provides all those involved to share a massive share of the cost of the project while the quality of the workmanship is compromised.
    • A good examples are the projects implemented by the Water Board in Sri Lanka where more than 3 times the actual cost was paid to the contractors for following projects:
    o Eastern Coastal Area Water Supply Project Phase 1, II and III
    o Kelani Right Bank project
    o Austrian funded projects for Integrated Rathnapura, Colombo Sewerage, Weligama

    What we see happening at the moment is manipulation of projects to extract maximum commission by top politicians jointly with the Government officials.

    The only way to prevent this corruption happening any more is to investigate the assets of all the officials in Government Owned Agencies and Ministries. The assistance of Interpol has to be obtained to find out the bank deposits in foreign countries. The smarter rouge officers even plant their relations in foreign countries and buy assets and deposit money on their behalf to avoid detection.

    All responsible voter should be made to understand these facts and support whoever who would provide firm undertaking to stop any more corruption.

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