by S. L. Gunasekara
There was a time, not too long ago when even a relatively small increase in prices led to consternation among the public. Thus, an increase of even 10 cents in the price of a gallon [not litre] of petrol; or of 2 or 3 cents in the price of a cigarette made the people throw up their hands in collective horror and seek to cut down on purchases of such commodities.
President Rajapaksa at the opening of the sluice gates of the Upper Kotmale Hydro Power Project-May 6, 2012-pic by Sudath Silva-courtesy: Infolanka.com
Accordingly, an increase in the price of petrol led to there being fewer cars on the road, while an increase in the price of cigarettes led to smokers endeavouring, with some success at the start, to cut down on their smoking.
However, Sri Lankans being Sri Lankans, none of these counter measures lasted long and the people having become used to the price increases, went back to their usual patterns of consumption.
Today, however, things are different, and the people who have become virtually anaesthetized by frequent price increases by successive governments which now increase them not by a few cents but by varying sums of rupees from about Rs 10-15 to Rs. 100 or 150 or more, do not even throw up their hands in collective horror or make even a short-lived effort at consumer resistance. By and large they just ‘grin and bear’ because they have little or no alternative.
While parties in Opposition do protest against the increases in the cost of living, the people are finally intelligent enough to realize that they do so not through any concern for the people, but with unlimited glee to use such tragedies for their political advantage to drum up support for themselves and thereby achieve their goal of getting into their hands, the reins of power so that they may ‘improve’ upon [not cure] the abuses of the present Government for their own betterment.
Mahinda Rajapaksa and his band of ‘hangers on’ who, for want of a better term are known as a ‘Government’ must realize that while the People have supported them repeatedly and will probably continue to do so, because they realize that the wholly insincere and power hungry alternatives to Rajapaksa and his ‘hangers on’, are immeasurably worse than they, the time may well come when they may well feel that ‘enough is enough’ and that they want to see an end to the uncaring arrogance of the present set of buffoons even while knowing that the buffoons who replace them will be far worse.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, for it is only he who matters in his purported government of self-seeking ‘yes men’, must realize even now that while the people are highly appreciative of the exemplary leadership he gave the country while military operations against that gang of criminals called the LTTE was ‘on’, they also realize that his purported ‘leadership’ since then has been less, far less, than pathetic. He must not, he cannot, therefore, take their support for granted but set about giving the country the same type of resolute leadership he gave it from 2005 to the 19th May 2009.
He then worked to a well thought-out and cohesive plan to defeat terrorism and restore peace in our land. Today, we see no such plan, only a series of ad hoc decisions some of which are contradictory of others taken in the same field. How else is it that with hunger and malnutrition being rife in our land, we find primary producers of food, the farmers, destroying their produce and pouring thousands of litres of milk on the streets?
The bureaucrats supposedly responsible for planning must be held accountable for this tragic state of affairs; but how can they, when that wholly obnoxious multitude of unemployables called ministers give them no latitude, and he who says, “No Minister” is often cast into ‘outer darkness’.
Let us not forget that we live today, in the ‘AGE OF THE SYCOPHANT’ , where criticism, however honest or justifiable, is taken as hostility or treachery; while fawning sycophancy however patently insincere, and boot ‘licking’ or ‘kissing’, as ‘loyalty’ or ‘competence’ is welcomed and rewarded as such. To me, this situation is all the more appalling when it happens in the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who once displayed to me, his total contempt for such ‘lickers’ and other sycophants by categorizing them as “DIVAKARAS”!
The foreigners, particularly of the ‘Rapacious West’ and India, clamour for ‘accountability’ in respect of the conduct of our troops in the last stages of what they term the ‘war’, but was in fact a campaign of military operations to put an end to the terrorism and violations of human rights that were being committed with total impunity by that gang of unrepentant criminals called the LTTE.
However, not one of them, nor even the general populace of Sri Lanka call for ‘accountability’ for the criminal waste and attendant increases in the cost of living that has now become an ‘every day feature’ in our lives.
The people of our land have been ready, able and willing to bear up hardship and make sacrifices for the country where it is necessary to do so. They proved this by their admirable restraint and their refusal to engage in strikes or ‘agitations’ which would necessarily have impeded the ‘war’ effort, when they realized that the government or rather Mahinda Rajapaksa [with the others of his so called ‘Government’ ‘tagging along’] was sincerely engaged in a sincere and cohesive endeavour to rid this Country of the scourge of terrorism.
They will doubtless have that same willingness if they see a sincere and cohesive effort being made to cut down on waste and corruption and contain the ever escalating cost of living. Such an effort is not there to be seen by anybody who has ‘eyes’ and a ‘willingness’ to see.
Certainly I, who supported Mahinda Rajapaksa and his gang of ‘hangers on’ euphemistically called a ‘Government’ in 2005 and 2010, and will probably continue to do so because of the tragic lack of a credible alternative, do not see any such effort being made.
What steps have been taken to give the primary producer, the farmer, a fair price for his produce? What is the purpose of engaging in campaigns with ‘catchy’ titles to encourage production when the producer is left ‘high and dry’ after he has produced? Why has no minister been taken to task for his ineptitude which we see in such abundance?
What steps have been taken to even curb waste and corruption? The ‘Bribery Commission’ has no doubt been re-activated. However, even that vital Commission is still a home for veritable ‘geriatrics’ who have retired from their regular employment after reaching retiring age and are hence officially regarded as being too old or unfit by reason of age to continue to function in their respective posts. How then can such retirees be considered young enough to perform the functions of that vital Commission?
What degree of independence has been given to that Commission, which is dependent entirely on the government for its investigating staff who are seconded from the Police Force? Has any effort been made to date to investigate the assets and life styles of the ministers and their ‘hangers on’ to determine whether they could have acquired such assets and adopted their current life styles from their legitimate incomes?
While the people suffer from the intolerable increases in the cost of living, they see the criminal waste of their funds on the ostentatious life-styles of the ministers and other favorites of the President and/or his Government. Ministers go about the streets with numerous vehicles packed with ‘security officers’ escorting them even today, three years after terrorism has been eradicated.
There can be no gainsaying the fact that such security is afforded to these functionaries not because of a realistic need for it but as a ‘status symbol’ to sustain their bloated egos. The wages, allowances etc. of those security officers, the cost and running costs of those vehicles are borne by the long suffering people who have to sacrifice and pay for this tomfoolery.
Expenditure on foreign travel for ministers, officials and other functionaries who have found favour with the President and/or his government appears to have no limit. Each purported delegation that departs our shores for any official or purportedly official purpose is full and overflowing with such favourites. Whenever the President goes abroad, whether to visit the Pope or to address the United Nations, he takes with him a multitude of ‘hangers on’.
Over 150 such persons are alleged to have gone to Queensland to make an (fortunately for the Country) unsuccessful attempt to have an Athletics Meet staged in Hambantota; our ‘delegation’ to the recently concluded session of the HRC in Geneva is said to have been 71, though judging from newspaper reports, the only person there who made a useful contribution was our Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam who, according to news reports, is to be removed from her post! This proves once more the tragic fact that it is dangerous to be competent and committed to one’s duties.
As I have said before, It would, indeed be useful to do a study of the quantum of public funds expended on each member of each such ‘delegation’ and assess the respective values of the services [if any] rendered by each of them to the country by being members of such delegations. The difference between such figures would necessarily constitute the quantum of the criminal waste of funds of the people to enable favourites of the President and/or his government to engage in expensive pleasure jaunts to foreign countries. Should not the long arm of ‘accountability’ extend to such matters?
Not so strangely, the parties in Opposition, besides making a periodic token reference to these matters, have never made an issue of them. I say not so strangely because the reason for this ‘reticence’ on their part is doubtless their desire to repeat or even ‘improve’ upon these abuses in the event of their achieving their ‘burning ambitions’ to achieve ‘power’ or in other words to fleece the People some more for their benefit. That old Sinhala saying “EKA VALLE POL” necessarily comes to mind.