Sarath de Alwis
At long last, the gauntlet thrown down during the recent hoopla at the Shangri-La has been taken up. Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Mangala Samaraweera has not only taken it up but has decided to run the gauntlet. The metaphor is appropriate. It describes the painful but necessary task of confronting something or someone that is intrinsically abhorrent.
Mangala Samaraweera is perhaps the only Minister in this Government who is ideologically alert to the menace in the form of the former strongman Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
‘Viyathmaga’ is not what it claims to be, says Mangala. Instead, the name of the movement that seeks to instal the former Defence Secretary as President of the Republic is a ‘Vipathmaga’ he asserts.
It is not, as the ‘intellectual movement’ seeks to posit, the erudite path traced by professionals, entrepreneurs and academics. It will be ‘vipathmaga’ or a path of pitfalls and peril.
The intimidating history experienced in the decade 2005 -2015 has begun to breathe down our collective necks again. It sends cold shivers down our collective spines, warning of a return to the dark days of abductions, disappearances and unexplained and inexplicable executions.
Mangala Samaraweera presented a catalogue of reasons explaining why he feared the former strongman’s current attempt to recapture state power and gain control over its machinery.
While welcoming his forthright opposition to a return of unbridled tyranny, it is important for Minister Samaraweera to remember that the purpose of inventing the clock was not only to tell the time but to remind us that time does not stand still. Tick tells us that time is ticking. Tock tells us that time has passed. We are fast approaching the sound of ‘tock’!
Soon after the Presidential Election, Mangala Samaraweera complained to the police of a conspiracy hatched on the historic night of January 8, 2015 to prevent a peaceful transfer of power. The case fizzled out after a few inquiries were made. Nobody knows why.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris has warned us of a Rajapaksa restoration on the lines of the return of Dr. Mahatir Mohammed in Malaysia. The parallel the learned Professor seeks to draw is a bit of a stretch. That said, there are some lessons to be learnt from recent developments in Malaysia. Anwar Ibrahim has revealed how a distraught Najib called him in his prison cell and what advice he offered Najib in return.
What passed between the outgoing President and the then Leader of the Opposition who went to see him at Temple Trees at dawn on January 9, 2015, the morning after the Presidential Election, remains shrouded in mystery.
While applauding the Minister of Finance for his principled stand against the looming tyranny we must remind him and through him the powers that be, that oligarchic collective that masquerades as the ‘Viyathmaga’ is a hydra-headed monster with a massive war chest at its disposal.
Viyathmaga ideologue Nalaka Godahewa treated us to a homily on Facebook founder Zuckerberg’s genius in amassing billions by innovational excellence. It was intended to impress our young entrepreneurial talent that his boss Gotabaya was the man who will offer a level playing field for the country’s youth.
It would have been more helpful if he had expanded on his own entrepreneurial achievements under the solicitous shadow of his Godfather.
His masterly presentation on behalf of his master described the times we live in. We live in the age of facts, alternative facts and negotiated truth.
Godahewa’s success trajectory was as spectacular as that of Zuckerberg if we locate him in context. Each toad is destined to thrive in its respective pond.
On August 28, 2012 he spoke to an English daily on the possibility of his succeeding Tilak Karunaratne as the SEC supremo.
It was then widely reported that he would move from his perch as Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) to be the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission following the resignation of Tilak Karunaratne.
Godahewa told the journalist that despite speculation he had not yet been appointed. What he told the paper then gives an insight into the psychology of the charlatanry in the charade that describes itself as ‘Viyathmaga’ .
“Yesterday alone, I received more than 100 calls congratulating me for the new appointment as the SEC head. But I have not been communicated about this appointment so far,” Godahewa said.
Now that is Orwell’s Oligarchic collective in its embryonic stage.
He expanded on his strategies as an investor.
“Yes, as any investor, right throughout, I was buying and selling shares. Also, like any normal investor, I was leveraged and given the present high interest rate scenario, sold some of my holdings. Apart from that, certain shares were disposed because I didn’t want them in my portfolio,”
The news report then informed readers of its business pages: “Among other investments, Godahewa is the 7th largest shareholder of Colombo Land & Development PLC, where he sits as the Chairman, and 10th and 16th largest shareholder of Waskaduwa Beach Resort PLC, a subsidiary of Citrus Leisure PLC.”
Let us not reinvent the wheel. The newspaper report is widely available on the internet.
What is relevant to this discussion on the oligarchic character of ‘Viyathmaga’ is that at the time at which the interview was published, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the patriot who was steering the activities of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and Godahewa served on the board of UDA, Liberty Holding (Pvt) Ltd, and Liberty Plaza Management Corporation and Agrispice (Pvt) Ltd.
He also served as the Chairman of Divasa Finance, a company controlled by advertising tycoon Dilith Jayaweera.
The newspaper report explains that Divasa Finance was later renamed George Steaurt Finance and received preliminary approval from the Colombo Stock Exchange to list its shares by way of an Introduction.
The hoopla at the Shangri-La was a professional job executed by the best in the business of image engineering. It had the sure professional touch of the creator of ‘Api Wenuwen Api’ who once also admitted at a press conference that the then Secretary of Defence had been kind enough to help him by calling the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. That the then SEC Chairman left his job soon after is a matter that is neither here nor there in the context of our man’s discovery that we need upright men in the public service.
Interestingly, the fascination with Zuckerberg is not confined to Godahewa alone. The self-made Ogilvy who claims to have amassed his fortune by sheer gut and grit in the post-war years tells journalists quizzing him “The CSE is a place where perception takes a huge role. Mark Zuckerberg thought his Facebook share was going to be 100 plus per earnings ratio. it is a belief. “
We like to think that we fight injustice. But in the last three years and four months, we have done little to change an unjust system. A brazenly predatory system of state capture was put in place by the Rajapaksa regime by leveraging patriotism to create a plutocracy that was committed to advance their hold on power. It has not only survived the regime change but has brilliantly succeeded in coopting pivotal players of the successor Government.
Unjust systems cannot be changed in the absence of a focused and determined effort. The complacency of an indifferent citizenry and a Government impervious to the lurking danger are the main factors contributing to perpetuate unjust systems and a corrupt social order.
When this Government assumed office, we were assured that the pumping and dumping deals in the Colombo Stock Market would be probed and fraudsters exposed.
Dear Mangala, the opposite of memory is not forgetting. The opposite of memory is justice.