Pickpocketing the public purse Preaching Progress
Posted on November 27th, 2017

By Sarath De Alwis Courtesy The Island

The title captures the essence of three wasted years since 8th January 2015. The kick off point of the Maithripala Sirisena Presidency and administration of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

On his assumption, the new President publicly declared that his was a one-term presidency. Reform was its singular purpose. Having said that, he made his brother the boss of Telecom and assured us that he would end nepotism. He promised to end cronyism. He made A.S.P Liyanage the ambassador to Qatar. He also steered through the 19th Amendment. He set up independent commissions. It is alleged that he made Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to move the Supreme Court to ensure his fundamental rights. Now that is a feat that defies repeat. The nearest equivalent would be to persuade Mahanayake Theras that unitary is coerced and united is agreed and hence unitary is less Buddhist and United is more Buddhist. So, his positives outweigh his negatives. We thank the gods for mercies, little or substantial.

Our quadruple quandary

This essay is not about President Sirisena. It is about Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his oligarchic cohorts. The observations made above were only to accentuate our present and imminent quadruple quandary.

We need to keep, sustain and defend this President occasionally faulty and frequently guided by commonsense. We must however with determination oust this appallingly unprincipled Prime Minster.

We need also to prevent other unmistakably tyrannical contenders from swindling our sovereignty with help from the Saffron sorority.

This compounded pickle and chaos should not divert us from our obligation to correct past mistakes, recognize present imperatives and realistically frame our future.

A Liability to Stability, In the name of God, Go

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe must be told in plainest and precise language that we have had enough of him and his experts.

President Sirisena cannot tell him to go. With the 19th Amendment he has painted himself into a corner. He cannot dissolve parliament. He does not have the numbers. He has a few genuinely loyal SLFP troopers excluding the appointed clowns.

Making peace with the JO will not help. The Minority Parties who in effect brought him to power will not go anywhere near an equation in which Gotabaya is a factor.

He must use the minority parties to intervene to resolve the impasse. The UNP parliamentary group must be made to realize the folly of propping up a leader who has been successful beyond his worth, promoted beyond his intellectual capacity and arrogant to a degree far more than his rotten achievements deserve.

Emerging from his clarifications before the commission, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe told the press, “I had an opportunity to explain our government policy on public debt. The president and secretary of our party, our ministers have come forward to fearlessly give evidence. The ‘yahapalanaya’ (good governance) will move forward. There is nothing to hide. There may have been mistakes, shortcomings, but the ‘yahapalanaya’ will move forward”.

The commission was not about government policy on public debt. It was about Arjun Mahendran’s role as Governor of the Central Bank. It was about his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius making windfall profits by trading sovereign bonds and profiteering. It was about manipulating the Central Bank supervised pension fund – the EPF.

Lying and Truth Stretching

Ranil is not a liar. He is a consummate truth stretcher. Unravelling the mind of Wickremesinghe has become a national emergency. He was born into privilege with a silver spoon in the mouth. The world was his oyster. Uncle JR made him a Cabinet Minister in his first term. When it was his turn to choose ministers, he opted for the likes of John Amaratunga, Sagala Rathnayake, Malik Samarawickreme and Vajira Abeywardene. They were the anointed.

He determinedly excluded superior intellects and incisive minds. Ranil inhabits a world where the anointed shape policy. Events last week showed Sujeeva Senasinghe’s ambition to secure his slot round Ranil’s roundtable. He has come far on foot notes.

What is wrong with these people? They are immune to criticism. They are indifferent to contrary opinion. More than exercising power, they enjoy retaining and concentrating power in their hands. Ranil in addition to his Prime Ministerial role wants to be the economic czar. He makes ambitious plans both political and economic.

Despite the social preeminence he is born to, he is overcome by a compulsive power grabbing urge.

Although born to wealth and social preeminence, such people are compulsively driven to amass power for the sake of power.

The day, Wickremesinghe appeared before the commission was the day that our people discovered the real pickpockets of the public purse.

A phalanx of front line misters of the UNP including peripheral associates, Rajitha Senaratne and Arjuna Ranatunga were on hand to express solidarity with the beleaguered leader of the UNP.

These Senior Ministers were there not to give evidence. They were there, to inform the people and President Sirisena that they stood by Wickremesinghe who made Arjun Mahendran Governor of the Central Bank. They were there to substantiate Ranil’s claim that Arjun Mahendran’s appointment was not an arbitrary whim of his but the consensus of his ministers. This is not the first time that the dental surgeon has extracted rotten teeth, or the cricketer challenged the umpire.

They were shutting out their minds from the issue of bonds. At a critical point in the trajectory of their celebrated coalition they were suspending their conscience. They were not blind to the folly of Wickremesinghe. They refused to know.

Of Rational Egoists

Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand speaks of rational egoists, who will not deal with others on any terms other than theirs. They are convinced that their purpose is an end and not the means of any end of others.

Does this not describe the current UNP leadership? The writer directs this question to the cultivated minds of Mangala, Eran, Harsha and such others in the party. This writer will not exclude even a hectoring Appuhamy from the ranks of rational UNP minds, not egoistic as their manor born leader and his ilk.

This was convincingly demonstrated by the Dental Surgeon who excels in political surgery on behalf of the highest bidder. With the characteristic grin exposing his lilywhite teeth three days later declared that only foreign experts could explain what bonds are.

It is our misfortune that Governor A.S. Jayawardena is not in a position to explain the system he put in place during his term as governor of the Central Bank under President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Maithri in a cul-de-sac

In a follow up essay this writer will explore how President Maithripala drove himself in to a political cul-de-sac.

For the present this short missive is food for thought for those well-meaning endearingly guileless followers of Sobhitha Thera who persist in their belief that they could still salvage their dreams. This writer weeps for Sarath and Gamini.

As the President has correctly pointed out, the few achievements of the 8th January 2015 triumph were achieved when the UNP had only 44 seats in Parliament. What the President did not say but should have said is that Wickremesinghe is a fascinating fabricator of cock-and-bull stories.

If the UNP leader has decided to brazen it out, the President should offer to dissolve parliament with the consent of two-thirds of the house now eager to amend laws to hold local government elections. A Parliamentary General Election under a reformed electoral system will enable the Kaduwela electorate in which this writer is a registered voter to reject the obscenity of Sujeeva Senasinghe.

A derailed train

The Maithri-Ranil duumvirate is a derailed train. It will not take us anywhere. Reforms are inherently revolutionary. It is also inevitable that democratic reform movements are susceptible to hijack by persons with different agendas. It has happened to us.

There is no shame in admitting error and resuming the march. What we stood up for on 8th January 2015 was to dismantle political, social and economic hierarchies that were offensive to human decency.

What must be done

The bond fiasco is a reminder that dismantling those oligarchic hierarchies is not a done deal. We don’t yet have a structure to build a fair society. The surveillance state was dismantled. Yet, our day-to-day governance passed to a new set of villains with Orwellian notions and inclinations.

Wickremesinghe and his Brahmin cronies see others who differ as disposable and unwelcome. Such people can turn out to be worse than the earlier menace. Why take the risk?

Dinesh Weerakkody biographer of Ranil, son-in-law of John Amaratunge and director of the Access Group after 8th January 2015 called ours a revolution just as transformative as the Russian October revolution. That is hogwash.

Revolutions have a purpose but not direction. The French killed the King and deprived the nobility of their land. A century later they colonized Indo China and Africa. The Russians killed the Tsar and eliminated the entire Tsarist system only to install a new Tsar in the Kremlin 100 years later. So, let us not call ours a revolution. Ours is an experiment. We shall continue with it. We shall overcome.

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