(Text of Editorial Appearing in the “Sunday Times” of June 26th 2022 Under the Heading “Adding corruption to the crisis”)
The Prime Minister sounded thoroughly exasperated when he addressed Parliament earlier in the week. He said there was one set of persons saying he was downplaying the prevailing economic crisis, while another was accusing him of exaggerating it. A damned if you do; damned if you don’t situation.
Coming away from talks with an IMF staff-level team in the country studying the crisis, and the legal and financial advisers retained by the Government to negotiate with the IMF, the Premier had probably the best assessment of the crisis. He said there was “no other option but to go with the IMF”, and asked the Opposition that had left the Chambers protesting the inability of the Government to solve the crisis, for an alternative option, if any.
It was an unusual stand by the Opposition. Fundamentally, Members of Parliament are elected to speak in the House on behalf of the people. That is representative government. Not to keep away from Parliament. Even otherwise, it is patently unreasonable to expect a silver bullet or miracle drug to cure the kind of shambles the economy is in.
If the Opposition does not want to be part of the Administration, to which it has been invited, then it must do its duty inside Parliament by providing some alternate ideas and proposals. It seems to want to take the battle outside Parliament by way of strikes which are on the drawing boards which will only make life even more difficult for ordinary folk to cope with. These Opposition parties are aiming at the next elections while the Government and the people are struggling, waiting for the next foreign loan to pay for the next shipment of fuel, gas and medicines.
Even that call for an election is a hollow one, when the whole country knows that electioneering and the logistics for an election are an impossibility in the midst of the current crisis. There’s no guarantee the outcome will ensure a stable Government either.
The focus on the 21st Amendment to clip the wings of the Executive Presidency also seems a non-starter with the political manoeuvres taking place by the ruling coalition clinging on to power while the ship of state is sinking.
In the process, high-level corruption is going on unabated. This corruption has percolated down to the fuel bowser driver and gas shed assistant and the whole country because with the shortages and demand over supply of essential goods comes systemic corruption.
The Sunday Times investigation that won an Asian Publishers award (SOPA) recently on R. Paskaralingam, President R. Premadasa’s right-hand man in the Treasury, revealed in the ‘Pandora Papers’, is a text-book case of how senior officials in Government were able to siphon funds and stash it away in foreign lands from a long time back. The then CEB chief’s revelations to the parliamentary oversight committee COPE on the entry of Indian billionaire Adani into projects in Sri Lanka and the foul odour from the gas tenders and so many other rackets of recent times have all gone into the limbo of forgotten things. It is so unfair by the suffering people to cast a blind eye to these.
The chest-thumping JVP shows off wheelbarrows full of files to the media and COPE committees showcase rank inefficiency and corruption in Government institutions that have bled this country over the years, but all these are limited to media headlines and failed prosecutions at best. Professional organisations have not stood up and been counted. Given the inaction by the Government to pursue the ill-gotten wealth of politicians and officials – past and present, the frustrations of the citizenry are not only understandable, they could well be under-estimated.
Lanka’s presence at CHOGM
The Foreign Minister flew off this week to a third destination on the world map on yet another seemingly useless trip within a fortnight, while the country is in the throes of its worst economic and foreign exchange crisis.
This week’s visit was to the African continent – Kigali, capital of Rwanda to attend the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting). Media statements from the Foreign Office always say he is representing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but at the customary informal one-to-ones between Heads of Governments, Foreign Ministers are not included even if they carry a proxy letter from their respective leader.
Rwanda has come out of one of the most brutal ethnic conflicts in recent history. The Commonwealth has gone through a rough patch.
Britain itself decided to abandon the rest of the group of 54 nation-states that were part of the British Empire (other than Rwanda) until the last century, and head towards Brussels some decades back to embrace Europe as their new partner, only to abandon that Union later.
For most of Britain’s political fraternity, the Commonwealth is history. The summit in Kigali came in the backdrop of the drama unfolding in the United Kingdom over Boris Johnson’s tottering Conservative Government pressing for the deportation of Rwandan asylum seekers seeking refuge in Britain, causing huge embarrassment to Prince Charles, who had to represent his mother, Queen Elizabeth, the titular head of the Commonwealth at CHOGM.
The British monarchy has a genuine and abiding fondness for the Commonwealth but they only reign and many British politicians who rule don’t share that affinity. They are narrow-minded, never stepped on the shores of Commonwealth countries, only beholden to their constituents and their future electoral prospects.
On the international stage, Britain is leading the charge against Sri Lanka, a fellow member state of the Commonwealth at the UN Human Rights Commission. It is classic big power duplicity when its Government wants to consider leaving the European Court of Human Rights and override the European Convention on Human Rights accusing the Court of bias because it halted the deportation of the Rwandan asylum hopefuls.
Yesterday, there was no pledge of support in the final Commonwealth Declaration from Kigali for the suffering people of Sri Lanka and other less fortunate Commonwealth nations. The entire agenda of CHOGM is dominated by the ‘old Commonwealth’ now referred to as the ‘white Commonwealth’ which has its own interpretation of ‘Commonwealth values’. The Commonwealth is fast becoming irrelevant in the modern world and of no use to man nor beast, and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister seemed a mere spectator at the summit.