Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
When the classical Greeks reminded struggling humanity centuries ago that ‘whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad’ they may have been contemplating Sri Lanka as a special example thereof.
Would we survive the day?
As increased low income families poise at the edge of starvation while a few wine and dine on choice luxuries, this is a nation gone mad. The Rule of Law is a luxury that Sri Lankans can ill-afford. Instead, the question is more, (much like what survivors of conflict in the Northern war theatre would ask once upon a time as shells rained down on their cowering heads), would they survive the day? The calamitous collapse of Lebanon has become more real and hence more frightening to this nation.
Beset by an imminent collapse of the national grid, there is roll-on impact on water supply, food and fuel supplies. A multi-pronged vacuum at the heart of political, societal and business leadership marking a failed State is evidenced, absent a course correction. That is notwithstanding the hoi polloi who trek to marvel at the wonder of the Colombo Port City to be reassured that they do not have to pay top dollar to take ubiquitous ‘selfies’ of themselves, though others trying to utilise the Port City Premises for films and videos are not so lucky.
In a State that parades national sovereignty as a premium political and constitutional virtue, is the Port City a public place, one wonders? But let us return to the central theme of discussion this week regardless of incidentally provocative issues.
The point is that, in the event of a Lebanon-like collapse on this soil, it is foolishness of the highest degree to believe that the trappings of privilege will insulate a few from the avalanche of social chaos that would follow. Again, one must look at Lebanon to fully understand the falsity of that illusion. This is how a country dies not with a bang but with a very sad whimper.
Existential dilemmas of the State
Yet despite existential dilemmas of the Sri Lankan State that are a thousand times more grave than what transpired during many decades of conflict, there seems to be sublime indifference at the highest levels of political leadership. As the Parliament opened for business this week, the absence of fanfare is not only what was expected. Of course, this is a given. But far more than that, the Government was looked at, to acknowledge the severity of the crisis and outline imperative remedial action.
Instead, what we had was more of the same rhetoric as the Government and the Opposition bickered as to who was responsible for the failure of the State. On his part, President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa repeated the mantra that has been the less than reassuring stamp of his Presidency in promising to safeguard national security. But national security is not a concept that can operate in isolation as the President must be reminded. It is inextricably – and for that matter, legally – tied to economic security, to legal security and to social security. Can we point to the realisation of these multiple points of security under this Government?
Meanwhile, idiocies predominated at the level of the State. Do we need a Minister of Power to recommend that street lights may be switched off at particular times during the night to conserve electricity? Or for that matter, to ensure that electrical appliances are turned off in state institutions? Surely these are minimum precautions that the lowliest electrical technician, nay even a nominally sensible teenager, can advise the Government to take heed of? That is, if the Government needs that advice.
Political lunacies and hard truths
In truth, I may well turn that sentence on its head and say that a Government which needs such advice is not fit to govern in the first instance. But lo and behold, these ‘profound’ recommendations form part of an ‘ingenious’ plan to reduce the consumption of electricity that the Ministry expects to present to the Cabinet, we are told.
Is the political leadership comprised of fools or charlatans or an ugly mixture of both, we ask with good reason? In fact, the very question as to whether parts of the country will have a power breakdown is determined erratically.
This is much like the wildly rocketing price of vegetables or the explosions of domestic gas cylinders that continue despite the responsible companies assuring adherence to safeguards.
Each day, Sri Lankans ask with trepidation ‘will they or won’t they?’ from operators of the national grid as small businesses collapse, societal functioning grinds to a halt and the more than usually nervous tremble at the thought of increased crime when households are in darkness. This is similar to political lunacy which drove agricultural production into the foul smelling cesspits of contaminated ‘organic’ fertiliser overnight.
This is a Government of Ministers that cannot, by and large, govern. A Cabinet reshuffle must therefore consign such worthies to the ranks of the forgotten. Meanwhile all that the Opposition can do is to thunderously proclaim that they will go to court against the violation of the rights of people. As much as a Government that cannot govern must go home, an Opposition that cannot ‘oppose’ save by uttering the most inane absurdities, must forsake its role as the ‘Government in waiting.’
Let us be done with speechifying
That said, it must also be remarked that nothing is more despicable than politicians who have destroyed Sri Lanka, pontificating as to how things may be done differently. But I must amend this harsh summation post haste. What is deplorable are also the follies of professionals and public figures (retired or not, as the case maybe) praising politicians in tributes that are astoundingly, if not wilfully, blind. Within the space of a few short days, we had former Prime Minister (Ranil Wickremesinghe) moralizing about ‘the end of politics’ in Sri Lanka.
Just previously, a former Chief Justice (Shirani Bandaranayake) praised former President Chandrika Kumaratunga for her ‘commitment to judicial independence.’ The former Prime Minister claimed that traditional politics did not contain solutions to present day ills, suggesting instead that long-term measures are needed. Admirable as these sentiments may be, perhaps he may also look back on his very singular role in contributing to the national crisis. As we may recall, this list is too long, including inter alia, the daylight robbery of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka under his Prime Ministerial watch.
As for the former Chief Justice, she may usefully be reminded of the plethora of reports by the United Nations and the International Bar Association on political controversies undermining the Silva Court under the Kumaratunga Presidency (press releases by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judiciary, (25.02.2003, 27.02.2003 and 28.05.2003); IBA, ‘Failing to protect the Rule of Law and the Independence of the Judiciary, 2001). Lack of space does not permit further elaboration. But as the nation topples with lightning speed into the abyss, let us be done with farcical speechifying.
That is not too much to ask , is it?