“We can neither ignore the catastrophes that affect us nor simply leave their solution to others”
Orhan Pamuk (For Rushdie)
Hours after Sri Lanka became a satellite-owning nation, a train collided with a three-wheeler at an unprotected railway-crossing in Ambanpola, killing 6 people, including 4 children.
There are around 900 unprotected railway-crossings in Sri Lanka, which cause several accidents a month. According to railway authorities protective measures are not possible at these death-traps due to lack of funds.
The regime, which has the wherewithal to own a satellite and is planning to build a network of express-ways crisscrossing the island, cannot spare any money to provide basic rail gates for unprotected railway-crossings.
That is Rajapaksa governance – irrationally inane; concerned only with the interests and needs, whims and fancies of the Ruling Family and their kith and kin. Whatever the Ruling Siblings and their nearest and dearest want, they must have, from untrammelled power to garish spectacles, from a budget airline and a satellite to an impeachment. Power is their plaything and money is no object.
Mihin Lanka is the most expressive symbol of this Family-first mode of governance and its mounting costs to the nation. According to the Auditor General’s report, Mihin Lanka’s losses for the current financial year amount to Rs. 2 billion. The same government will spend just Rs. 1billion on child development and women’s affairs and Rs. 437million on re-settlement in 2013.
Again according to the AG’s report, the cumulative losses of this Rajapaksa airline, in its 5 year existence, amount to Rs. 8.5 billion. With that money, every Mihin passenger could have been given a free ticket and probably a free meal as well! That may have cost the nation less than this endless financial pandering of a white woolly mammoth.
Though Mihin never made a profit (or broke-even) in its life, its directors increase their own salaries with gay abandon: “Although the company is running at a continuous loss, the annual remuneration paid to the six-member Board of Directors have increased over the years. Rs. 11 million has been paid as remuneration last year – an increase on Rs.4,9 million paid for the previous year” (Daily Mirror – 27.11.2012). The CEO of the perpetually loss-making Mihin, Kapila Chandrasena, is also the CEO of the national carrier. He gets paid Rs. 500,000 per month by Mihin and Rs. 500,000 per month by Sri Lankan – a grand total of one million rupees per month from public funds (compare this with the salary of a university professor, for example).
The following table provides a bird’s eye-view of Mihin’s performance and its cost to the nation:
Year Treasury Grants
(Rs. Million) Financial Year Losses (Rs. Billion)
2007 207 2007/8 3.1
2008 500 2008/9 1.3
2009 2,882 2009/10 1,2
2010 1,508 2010/11 940 (million)
2011 406 2011/12 1.9
Total 6,010 8.7
So Mihin has devoured 6 billion rupees of public funds in its five year existence.
The Chairman of this financial Bermuda-triangle is the same as the Chairman of Sri Lankan Airlines. He is Nishantha Wickremesinghe, Presidential brother-in-law, and the man who publicly admitted that he is harbouring a stash of smuggled foreign currency – and got away with it.
Mihin’s real performance is coming to light because we still have an independent Auditor General. Some years ago, the Rajapaksas tried to install an acolyte as the AG, but retreated (for the time being) in the face of stiff opposition from within the Auditor General’s department. Once the impeachment-travesty is over and the Rajapaksas have their very own chief justice, they will move to obliterate the few remaining non-Rajapakasised spaces in the Lankan state, such as the Auditor General’s Department. Once thos AG’s Department becomes like the other AG’s Department (that of the Attorney General, who is yet to instruct the police to implement the arrest order against parliamentarian-cum-Rajapaksa-acolyte Duminda Silva), Mihin can become the most profitable airline in the world. Abracadabra!
Mihin’s sorry saga is symbolic and symbiotic of Rajapaksa-First policy making. The 18th Amendment, the Divineguma Bill, the gargantuan military and the impeachment, for instance, are aimed at strengthening Rajapaksa rule and ensuring dynastic succession. Mihin, like the unsuccessful bid to host the Commonwealth Games, the 2013 Commonwealth Summit, the MRMR Port and the Mattala Air Port, is a behemothic sop for the Olympian vanity of the President. Then there are night-races and tax-free racing cars for Namal Rajapaksa and a satellite-cum-space programme for Rohitha Rajapaksa. If Sri Lanka suddenly decides to become the world-leader in ice-hockey, engage in Saturn-exploration or buy the world’s biggest aircraft-carrier, it will because some Rajapaksas has a fancy in that direction.
According to ‘Sri Lanka Human Development Report – 2012’, “Public investment on education fell from a peak of 2.7 percent of GDP in 2006 to 1.9 percent in 2010”. Sri Lanka spent more on education during the war than she is doing during post-war. This insanely irrational development makes perfect sense when considered in the context of Familial Rule. The Rajapaksas are not interested in education; naturally. They are interested in beefing their military might and implementing megalomaniacal projects. And that is where the peace dividend is going.
Knowing the costs and dangers of Rajapaksa politics and Rajapaksa economics, are we willing to risk Rajapaksa justice?
Rajapaksa leadership has strict policies to control the growth of family power within the SLFP. For instance, a close cabinet-ministerial kin cannot become a chief minister. This excellent rule applies to all SLFPers, except the Rajapaksas. And in that exception, its real aim becomes clear: preventing the growth of another SLFP political family which can challenge the Rajapaksas, someday.
The aim of Rajapaksa laws will not be better governance or greater order; the aim of Rajapaksa laws will be shoring-up Rajapaksa power and punishing Rajapaksa opponents. This is evident in the conduct of the police and the Attorney General’s department which become deaf and blind when a Rajapaksa kith or kin commits a crime while vengefully persecuting Rajapaksa opponents. This is manifest in the way the impeachment is being conducted. This is obvious in the scurrilous pamphlet against the CJ.
Post-impeachment, unjust laws will join despotic politics and irrational economics. Rajapaksa kith and kin will be able to commit any crime without ever having to fear the courts. Rajapaksa opponents will be hounded, incarcerated and perhaps even executed, perfectly legally (since the hangman is to make a comeback soon). The resurgence of Northern dissent – manifested in the recent protests by Jaffna students – will be used to give a patriotic coating to these bad laws.
For those Lankans with an adequate income, island-life is still mostly good. But good life cannot survive for long, in the company of bad economics and bad politics. And good life would be impossible in a country which is a breeding ground for bad laws and perverted courts.
In the end the impeachment is really about us, our security and our future. Are we going to allow the Rajapaksas to do to the judiciary what they have done to politics and economics?
Are we going to prove that there is no sleep like the feigned sleep of the cowardly and the indifferent?