When it comes to political promises, Sri Lankans are born suckers. From S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s ‘Sinhala Only’ Utopia to his wife Sirimavo’s ‘Rice from the Moon’ to J.R. Jayewardene’s ‘Dharmishta Society’ to Chandrika Kumaratunga’s ‘Eradication of Dooshanaya and Beeshanaya’ to maestro Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Miracle of Asia,’ Sri Lankans from all walks of life – rich and the poor, educated and the uneducated, have all fallen for what has almost always been, crap.
To expect this situation to change in the short to mid term would be akin to expecting the sun to rise from the West in the same period. Which is why Maestro Mahinda is at it again. Hardly had the volume of the call for the Rs. 2500 salary increment promise to be granted dropped a notch or two, he sent his mouthpiece Minister John Seneviratne to ‘announce’ that the President never made any such promise. And this in a day and age when every word that is said by the President is recorded and reported in some form or the other.
And it gets better. On Saturday, January 8, President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing a meeting at Temple Trees is reported to have said, “this government does not have any faith in privatisation and it would not sell state property.”
The audience no doubt in typical Sri Lankan fashion lapped it up and probably gave a thundering round of applause to the Presidential pronouncement. It is highly unlikely that the President was unaware that his Treasury Secretary, P.B. Jayasundera was at that very moment making arrangements to list some high profile government owned establishments in the Colombo Stock Exchange. If that is not privatisation then heaven help our Finance Minister.
How does one get away, and even get a round of applause, after resorting to such blatant, in your-face deception? Only two requirements – the speaker obviously needs to be an absolute maestro at his game and of course the audience, a bunch of suckers.
Privatisation is now taking an ugly, hitherto unseen face. It has been the practice that when foreign investors seek state land, be it in Colombo or anywhere else in the island for that matter, such land is given to the investor on a maximum 99 year lease. State land has never been sold outright to foreign investors.
This policy for some reason is no longer practiced. It was announced recently that Shangri-la had been ‘sold’ 12 acres of land at Army Headquarters opposite Galle Face. Days later, last Thursday it was announced that Cabinet had approved the sale of another huge block of land, again at Galle Face to China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation to build a multifunctional complex comprising of a five star hotel and a shopping mall.
It is an open secret that the days when powerful countries fought wars to conquer other less powerful countries are long gone. Now the same goals are achieved through the use of economic firepower. The Chinese have already got a firm foothold in Hambantota through the port it is now building there. From this vantage point they can easily monitor the shipping traffic in the Indian Ocean – the veritable jewel in the Chinese’ ‘String of Pearls.’ What the Chinese lacked was a firm foothold in the commercial capital and now it seems the Government of Sri Lanka has given it too, on a platter.
State land does not belong to the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa to dispose as they please. State lands belong to the people of Sri Lanka and it is held in trust on their behalf, by the government of the day. How does selling, for example, say the Timber Corporation differ from selling a part of Galle Face to the Chinese? How does this government define the word ‘privatisation’? When one of the most prime assets of the country such as a part of Galle Face or Army Headquarters is sold to a foreign government is that not privatisation of a key state asset?
One can just imagine the wailing cardboard ‘patriots’ such as the JHU and its Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva and such others would have resorted to had Ranil Wickremesinghe and his UNP decided to sell Army Headquarters to a foreign company to build a five star hotel. They would be screaming from the rooftops of a ‘threat to national security,’ ‘sovereignty has been surrendered for a few million dollars,’ ‘traitors of the nation’ etc. Today, their silence is deafening. So it was when the Casino Bill was introduced.
It will be intriguing should some selective activists like Vasudeva Nanayakkara, like he did in the case of the Insurance Corporation, initiate public interest litigation at least for the purpose of defining whether the two Galle Face deals are indeed instances of privatisation. Part two can then begin where part one ends.
It is also interesting that former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in an interview last week had said that 40% of every government deal was shrouded in corruption. When asked as to how she came about this figure she had replied it was through experience she had gathered as head of state for two consecutive terms. What it means in terms of the colossal projects undertaken by this regime, which incidentally consists of the very same ministers that served under her watch, we leave it to the imagination of readers.
It will be recalled that until last year the Galle Face area in its entirety was closed to the public of Sri Lanka for ‘security reasons.’ Should there be a security issue in the future will the seven star Shangri-la and the other Chinese five star hotel be told to pack up and leave due to security reasons? After all that was what the citizens of this country were told until a few months ago when they were denied access to even park a motorcycle in this area.
It won’t be long when some Indian company also demands a piece of Galle Face if one is to go by recent events. When that happens Sri Lankans who come from such far away places as Mahiyanganaya and even the city folk who have enjoyed this open space for centuries, will have no option but to jump right into the Indian Ocean while the high and mighty can wine and dine in Shangri-la style at Galle Face. To hell with national security etc. etc.
The bottom-line is this. A key part of Sri Lanka’s capital city has been sold outright to China – for USD 250 million – by a government that claims to be against privatisation. And the people of Sri Lanka? Well, they are cheering! What then, is the word that describes such a people?