Rulers and Suckers
Americans say that a ‘sucker’ is born every minute. In this resplendent isle it does appear that the birth rate of suckers is much faster than in the Land of Hope and Glory and should be measured in seconds rather than in minutes.
We had demagogues as leaders who took the people for rides before. But their end came either through unforeseen circumstances or through elections. Now we have a clique of leaders led by Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers who appear to take the people as a set of common or garden suckers. And the tragedy of it all is that the people do appear to be bamboozled by their leaders on matters which obviously they don’t seem to care.
Take for example the promise made by President Rajapaksa to give a salary hike of Rs 2500 to public servants. Suddenly one of his key Ministers, John Seneviratne denies that his leader had ever made such a promise. The public was assailed through radio, TV and the press for days on end on this bonanza for public servants but Minister Seneviratne had the brass to deny that such a statement was ever made. And public servants with their trade unions took this denial with equanimity! They do not seem to mind the blatant denial. This attitude is being adopted at a time when even a very cheap meal — pol sambol and bread, would cost Rs.100 — Rs. 50 per loaf and Rs. 50 for a coconut without taking into consideration the cost of other ingredients of a pol sambol!
And the tempo in taking the masses to be asses is being stepped up.
A proud boast of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his courtiers has been that they do not nationalise state institutions unlike the UNP government of Ranil Wickremesinghe. But the President’s Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera is going ahead with plans to place some of the key state institutions on the Colombo stock market. If this is not privatisation, what is? It is a simple question which any member of the public is entitled to ask but few have asked.
Even more dangerous is the sale of most valuable property of Sri Lanka to foreigners. The policy of all Sri Lankan governments right along has been not to sell land to foreigners. At most, land has been given out on lease for a maximum period of 99 years. Recently the President’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has extended his tentacles from the office of Defence Secretary to urban development sold 12 acres of prime land in the Galle Face Green environs to the Chinese owned Shangri-La group and another block of land to the China Aero Technical Import Export company to build a multi purpose complex comprising a five star hotel and shopping mall.
Two weeks ago it was announced that the government had taken over the Colombo Hilton Hotel built by a Sri Lankan entrepreneur, Cornel Perera with Japanese collaboration in the 1980s at which time foreign entrepreneurs were shunning Sri Lanka like a plague infected island, after the 1983 riots. Negotiations for its sale are currently underway with Delta Corporation Company, owned by the international ‘Casino King’ Jayadeva Mukunda Modi, for $ 121 million. Since casinos are quite likely to feature in all these five-star hotels we can expect pious government leaders — including the super pious JHU leaders — in their flowing white costumes to participate in pirith ceremonies at their ceremonial openings with cries of ‘Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu’.
The Rajapaksa brothers are blatantly going ahead with the sale of prime Sri Lankan land, basically the most valuable properties in Colombo to foreigners, particularly the Chinese. The Galle Face region would undoubtedly be a part of a ‘China Town’ considering the sales that have already been already conducted. But more ‘urban development’ is on the drawing boards with plans to tear down old British and Dutch buildings in the Colombo Fort and the shanties of the poor at Slave Island. The citizens of Colombo and those in other parts of the country are not aware of these ‘development plans’ and certainly not aware of their financial transactions. These valuable lands are not the property of the Rajapaksa family for them to distribute it to foreign powers and their commercial institutions. They are the heritage of all Sri Lankans.
President Rajapaksa and the UPFA government were elected to power basically on their claims to have given leadership to military operations against terrorism. No indications were given about their ‘urban development’ plans.
While Chinese involvement in economic and infrastructure development could drastically influence this country’s defence, domestic and foreign policies, it should be kept in mind that China is also a country that contributed significantly in defeating terrorism and should not be shunned. But all such deals should be discussed in the open, in Parliament and the details revealed, especially to Opposition parties and not only to the Cabinet of Ministers. Some deals it has been reported were sanctioned by the Cabinet but not presented to Parliament.
Transparency is essential because even former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who ruled for two terms as president had in a recent interview said that from her experience as president she could say that 40 per cent of all deals made by the government were shrouded in corruption.
It is time that the UNP stopped its petty squabbling for leadership and take on the government. Right now there appears to be only a few critics who would dare take on the Rajapaksa ruling clique. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa should show their mettle as leaders who can take on President Rajapaksa who is now putting on airs of being the monarch of all he surveys. The masses who once toppled governments are meek as mice today and are adopting the slavish ‘ehei hamaduruwane’ attitude.
President Rajapaksa does not seem to give two hoots about state finances. The devastating floods which reduced agricultural produce in the Dry Zone by as much as 40 per cent has not deterred him from flying out to Mumbai with a 40-strong cheering squad for the World Cup final. He is now going ahead with attempts to stage the Commonwealth Games in Hambantota in 2018 which could cost billions of dollars (US). The cost of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games staged last year has not been worked out but tentative estimates are that it would have cost US $ 6.4 billion when inflation and corruption are accounted for.
Can Lanka which cannot even afford to provide free medicine in state hospitals afford to throw billions of dollars on this super sports extravaganza? The mood right now is: Yes, we can. There are enough suckers!